America Ferrera grew up hearing stories about her great-grandfather Gregorio Ferrera, who was supposed to be some kind of a general. Armies love paperwork, and military service usually generates plenty of records. But in this case, we ended up turning to a completely different source to uncover Gregorio Ferrera’s dynamic life.
During her journey on Who Do You Think You Are? America learned that Gregorio Ferrera was indeed a general and a well-known revolutionary during the early 1900s up to his death in 1931. The nature of Honduran records made it difficult to gather details about Gregorio Ferrera’s life from traditional sources that are more readily available in other countries, such as vital records, censuses, and church records. However, historical newspapers proved to be an irreplaceable resource for piecing together the story of Gregorio Ferrera’s life as a revolutionary.
One unique article was a notice Gregorio published in a national newspaper acknowledging his intent to return from a time in exile in peace. He vowed to promote peace and brotherhood among his fellow Hondurans and to end his history of opposition and revolt. However, as America learned, it was not too long after this publication that Gregorio once again joined opposition forces into yet another revolution against the presidency. This time, however, it proved fatal. One of the last articles that America uncovered was a report detailing Gregorio’s death in a battle near San Pedro Sula on 27 June 1931.
These fascinating articles help illustrate the importance of incorporating newspapers into your family history research. Had we located a death record for Gregorio Ferrera, it may have simply listed his age, residence, and the date and place of his death. However, newspaper accounts offer a much more detailed story of how Gregorio died and the circumstances that led up to it. In other words, as genealogists like to say, newspapers can really add “flesh to the bones” of your family tree.
When searching for newspapers, the first place to check is online. Various organizations are working to collect, preserve, and digitize historical newspapers. America found some newspaper articles online at Ancestry, but she also examined holdings at various Honduran archives. If newspapers for the places you’re looking for are not online, here are a few other places to check:
- Local public libraries
- Local genealogical and historical societies
- State archives and libraries
- University libraries and archives
While many newspapers have been microfilmed, you’ll often have to turn to archives that hold original copies.
The biggest challenge to using newspapers is the fact that unless they are digitized, there’ a good chance that they are not indexed or searchable. This means you have to page through the issues for a range of months or years. This can certainly be a time-consuming endeavor, but as seen from America Ferrera’s journey, that search can pay off. America learned a great deal more about her great-grandfather than she may have in any other way.
Tips from AncestryProGenealogists
Here are a couple of other tips to keep in mind when searching for newspapers:
- Cross-reference with multiple newspapers—If you find an article, say about a tragic death or community event, chances are good that other papers in the region, perhaps even state or national papers, may have covered the same event and provided different details.
- Check papers for multiple jurisdictions—Historically, small towns often had their own newspapers, but there may also have been a county-wide publication. Then, there was probably a state-wide and even a national paper that may have information about your ancestors or the communities they lived in. Make sure to check for papers covering each of these jurisdictions—especially town and county papers.
Learn more about America's journey or watch episode recaps from previous seasons on TLC.com. Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 10|9c on TLC.