Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Friday, January 21, 2011

Newspaper Archives and Census Records: Reconstructing An Ancestor's Life

As a seasoned family history researcher, I can say from experience the use of genealogy research sites and online databases has never been better than now. And with all sorts of new technology designed especially for family researchers becoming available every day, online genealogy research in 2011 and future years will see drastic improvements. 

I first began my foray into online family research in 1997, when was still relatively new, and when was not yet available. Actually, my very first trek on the genealogy trail took me to the Family History Center at the local LDS Church, where I searched the International Genealogy Index (IGI) and requested the loan of microfilmed copies of several books and various records located in Salt Lake City.  The information I received during that first visit, and from a later review of the microfilmed documents I had requested, was enough to get my own family research off to a fantastic start. I will be forever grateful to volunteers at that Family Research Center who were not only expert researchers themselves, but were so willing to help a novice like me. That was fourteen years ago, and technology has definitely changed the research world.  Now anyone who has an internet connection, which is practically everywhere, and a PC, laptop, MacBook, notebook, i-phone, or similar device, can make use of all sorts of websites and databases that contain a mind-boggling amount of family history data.

During the past two weeks, I wrote a series of posts that began when I found the name Carlotta Nelson Fairchild on a grave marker in a cemetery in Goodman, Mississippi.  The Fairchild part of the name is what peaked my interest, since two of my children have Fairchild ancestors in their family trees. Interestingly, initial research for a possible connection to Fairchild names that I already knew suddenly took me in a totally different direction.  Once I learned that Carlotta had married someone from New Orleans, I wanted to know more.  And it was with little more than articles from newspaper archives (the Times-Picayune, in this case), census records, and references in an online book or two, that I was able to reconstruct and write about Carlotta's life and the lives of her huband and children.

The most amazing part of this project were the details revealed in newspaper articles, specifically the society pages of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Not only did the articles chronicle a plethora of parties and other social events, they often provided in-depth details about engagements, marriages, births, and christenings. Without information available in the newspaper articles, discovering details about Carlotta and her family members would have taken months, if not years, to find. In fact, some of the very personal information revealed in those articles might have been available only through interviews of individuals who knew the family well, a task that would have been impossible so many years later.

Although the newspaper archives provided much of the substance for my posts, census records definitely made up the foundation for my research. Initially, I searched census records available for Mississippi on for "Carlotta Nelson" and "Carlotta Fairchild" , beginning with 1900 and continuing through 1930.  When I came up with nothing, I opened up my search to include census records for all states.  Bingo!  Carlotta Fairchild was shown on the 1910 U. S. Census record for New Orleans, Louisiana, where she was living with her husband and his adult children in a household that had five servants. I was both surprised and amazed that Carlotta, the daughter of Danish immigrants, whose father was a dry goods merchant in the tiny turn-of-the-century hamlet of Goodman, Mississippi, was a society matron living in the Garden District of one of the Old South's grandest cities. Although I had found nothing to connect Carlotta Nelson Fairchild to the Mississippi Fairchild family that I was researching, I knew at that moment that Mrs. Louis Howes Fairchild had a story that needed to be told.

The rest of Carlotta's story appears in previous posts on this blog.  If your haven't already read the story, I invite you to do so.  The introduction to this series of seven posts can be found here.


  1. Just found your blog through Geneabloggers and wanted to tell you that I am really enjoying reading...

    There are families from Mississippi in my tree and another that I manage...

  2. I love being able to search the newspapers now. The internet is marvelous in that regards. The down side of internet genealogy it all the bad/incorrect family trees that are being posted and, unfortunately, propagated by others. The world tree is full of errors, but so many people just take it for granted and don't verify.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)