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
What a great idea Shelley! This is so fun. Thanks for sharing.ReplyDelete
It is fun, isn't it? I got totally absorbed in looking at all the different categories they had for prizes. Thanks for reading, Jana!Delete
I, too spent my evening going through old newspapers with some luck. I had family in and around Pataskala so I looked at your clipping, but alas! My farmer ancestors' wares were not posted as winners. I wish more small town newspapers were available online to browse.ReplyDelete
Hi Dodi, how neat that this is the area where your ancestors lived! I'm know the results were posted for other years as well, so maybe your ancestors were luckier then. The Ohio Historical Society has The Newark American on microfilm, which is where I viewed it. I share your wish to have more small town newspapers online. I think we are starting to see this happen, but it will take awhile, most likely. Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment--it's much appreciated!Delete
Ditto what Jana said, Shelley. I hadn't thought of looking for fair results but with farmers among my ancestors, it seems possible that one of them might be mentioned somewhere. Thanks for the tip!ReplyDelete
It never occurred to me either, Nancy, until I saw this. I have a lot of farmer ancestors too, so it's neat to have another potential source of information. You'll have to let me know if you find anything on your people.Delete
How I agree with you, Shelley. I love browsing through old newspapers (hard on the eyesight at time, though). They are full of such small but fascinating insights into life at the time and even better if you discover the name of an ancestor. You gave such a lovely example.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Sue. I know what you mean by the eyestrain, but it's worth it when you find those interesting tidbits, isn't it? It always seems to take me twice as long to get through a newspaper than I think it should, though--probably for that very reason! Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words.Delete
I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2013/07/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-july-19-2013.html
Have a great weekend!
Thanks so much, Jana--I'm honored! A nice weekend to you, too!Delete
I love the idyllic picture of country life that can be inferred from the fair results. So many prizes, so many talents, something for everyone. "Even" the women have prizes, and though listed by their husband's names, they are still identifiable. Many in my family were farmers, but very few in the Midwest. Still, looking for county fairs in newspaper articles is a great new idea.ReplyDelete
The variety of prizes and number of entries is astounding, actually. Pataskala was and is a small town. But there were 1675 entries in this fair! So I imagine the competition was pretty intense, at least in some categories. Having your name published in the newspaper as a winner had to be a pretty big deal. Best of luck if you go searching for fair winners among your ancestors, Mariann!Delete