Newspapers can be a great source of information about ancestors and their communities. Ads, news articles, opinion pieces, pictures, notices, social tidbits, and the occasional obituary all combine to create a fascinating snapshot of that particular time and place. Even if your ancestor’s name doesn’t appear in the paper, it’s like having a window on their world.
Last week I found another feature to love—and a lot of names—in a listing of winners from a local fair. Here in the Midwest, county fairs are still big events. Every county in Ohio has one. Farmers bring all sorts of livestock and produce in to be judged, and people submit baked goods, clothing, artwork, youth projects, and more in various categories. If fairs are popular now, imagine how important they were to our ancestors, particularly farm families. Many towns had their own fairs, in addition to the county and state fairs.
Winners from the 1869 Pataskala Agricultural Society fair, held the last weekend of September in Pataskala, Ohio, were published in The Newark American on Friday, November 5, 1869. The results took up a full broadsheet page. Here’s a short sample:
As you can see, there are a lot of names here. This is the kind of detail that can help round out a family history or ancestor profile—and it’s just plain fun, too. Imagine knowing that your ancestor won the prize for best 3-year-old stallion, the second best apples, the best pair of wool socks, the best canned blackberries, or the second best oil painting. Wouldn’t that be a neat fact to know?
What I particularly like are all the categories that gave prizes to women. Women’s names are notoriously difficult to find in many types of records. But here they abound. Married women are noted in this paper by their husband’s names, such as Mrs. Jas. Montgomery, who wove the best 10 yards of linsey. A number of unmarried women are named, too. Miss F. J. Pierson, for instance, apparently was quite good at making ruffled clothing.
I just stumbled upon these fair results, but if you go looking for them, keep in mind that most fairs were held in late summer and early fall, when produce was ready for market. The results may not appear until weeks later, though. Fortunately, due to its size, the feature should be easy to spot. If the community wasn’t large enough to have its own paper, look in papers published in nearby cities or the county seat.
Of course, the reason I was going through the newspapers to begin with was to search for an obituary, which I didn’t find. But I always seem to find something to
me as I’m browsing page-by-page through the microfilm. Old newspapers seem to
be good breeding ground for squirrels—the kind that lure me away from whatever
task is at hand. They bound across the pages, inviting me to follow, look, and
read. This time, they led me to something potentially useful. Now I want to
look for fair results for some of my ancestral families. Anyone else for
Photo of tomato competition courtesy of Adam Fagen via Fickr.com (http://www.flickr.com/photos/afagen/) under a Creative Commons license