Michelle Ann Kratts

How to find the history of your Niagara Falls home, Part IV: using old newspapers

In If This House Could Talk, Niagara Falls on June 12, 2015 at 3:08 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts

A tragic event that took the life of a young man who lived in our home in 1913

A tragic event that took the life of a young man who lived in our home in 1913

One of my favorite sources of information about local history is the old newspapers.  I must admit that –if I am researching ANYTHING at all in Niagara Falls–you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be scouring http://www.fultonhistory.com.

I literally worship the fine gentleman who started and maintains Fulton History (Old Fulton New York Postcards), Thomas M. Tryniski.  Not only does he provide an incredible database of local western New York historical newspapers, he also has them indexed…and it is all FREE!  It is a researcher’s dream!! And it is not just New York historical newspapers anymore–he has added many other states, as well, and the list is growing.

Weddings often took place in our homes

Weddings often took place in our homes

You can also research old Niagara Falls Gazettes and other local newspapers at the Niagara Falls Public Library on microfilm.  Some people are more comfortable doing it this way.  But through Fulton History, you can research from your home computer.  I even access it through my iPhone.  Sometimes I do have to go to the microfilm at the Niagara Falls Library as Fulton History only goes up through the early 1970’s with the Niagara Falls Gazette and does not contain the other Niagara Falls newspapers of times past.

Sometimes terrible and tragic deaths took place in our homes

Sometimes terrible and tragic deaths took place in our homes

So what can old newspapers tell you about your house’s history?  A great deal of information!  As you are probably most interested in the people who lived there before you…and possibly if any sinister occurrences have taken place in your home– then the old newspapers will most definitely enlighten your research.  You will find crimes that took place at your location, marriages, photos (sometimes quite good!), celebrations, military news, events and births and deaths.  As my home was built in 1880, the piles of information that I have gleaned from old newspapers is quite incredible.  I found that my home at one point housed several teachers that boarded at our location in the early 1900’s.  There were several violent deaths that took some of our home’s residents (not in the home–put quite publicized in the local newspapers!).  Obituaries are a great source and sometimes they even mention that our former residents had been laid out in our home for viewing following their deaths.  Don’t be frightened by this…it happened in all homes.   There were also meetings held at our home for the Niagara County Farm Bureau and the County Beekeeper’s Association.  There were weddings held in our home and there were deaths that took place in our home.  Men left for war from our home.  Women’s clubs were held in our home. Many, many things happen in our houses.  We certainly must know that we are not the first ones to occupy this space.  The newspapers are a great way to find the stories.

So how do you search?  Using http://www.fultonhistory.com is very simple and rewarding.  I will give you some helpful hints.  First of all, make sure you enclose your search terms in parentheses.  You can search for people or places.  For example, when searching for a name type as follows:  “Carl Goodrich”.  Also be sure to “play around” with the search.  Try “Karl Goodrich” or other variations.  If there is a middle initial, use that in your search.  Everything you search on Fulton History uses Optical Recognition technology.  This means that the only things that will come up are what the computer recognizes.  So if there is a big inkblot over “Carl” you may be out of luck.  And you will only come up with pages that those exact words are found on the page.  So if you type in a year plus the name…even if the event took place in that year, if it was not typed onto the newspaper page, this search term will not be recognized.  It can be tricky but the more you play at it, the better you become.  You can also search for addresses:  “2201 Linden Ave”.  Again, remember that if you type “Avenue” and only “Ave” was typed on that original newspaper page, then it will not pop up for you.

If you know the date that you are interested in you can also go to the date.  I have not found an easy way to do this, yet.  I do this by first going to the Newspaper Index–page three (this is where the Niagara Falls Gazette files are located).  I click on Niagara Falls Gazette and find the date and then click on pages until I find what I am looking for.  This method shows all of the pages in order and you can go page by page.  If there is an easier way I would appreciate your knowledge.  As for now, this is how I do it.  It is a little bit time consuming, but if you are an inveterate researcher, it will be worthwhile in the end.

One very frustrating problem with the Niagara Falls Gazette is the fact that there are gaps in years.  And, as Murphy’s Law inevitably kicks in on certain more difficult days, those exact dates are the most crucial!  I believe that Mr. Tryniski took the microfilms from the Niagara Falls Public Library when he digitized these newspapers and they are also missing from the microfilm editions.

I began my house research by combing the censuses and directories first, in addition to our house search, and then taking the names mentioned and plugging them into Fulton History.  Through this I was also able to see the old addresses that my house went under–street names that do not exist today.  Then I started plugging in these addresses and they seemed to cross-reference the people.  Everything matched.

It is a wonderful discovery to “meet” the people who lived in your home and to imagine your home as it may have been many years ago.  As I have learned so much about these people, it is almost as if I am able to picture them in our rooms.  How strange it is to know for a fact that ladies with ankle-length dresses walked upon our floors!  That German was most likely spoken here…as the original owners were German immigrants.

One article I found describes how people attending a bee demonstration might get to our home.

So this is how our people moved from place to place in 1919!

So this is how our people moved from place to place in 1919!

There are so many other ways you may find the history of your home!  I hope you will keep reading our installments.  The next article will introduce you to three offices at the Niagara Falls City Hall that may also assist you in your journey to find the history of your Niagara Falls home.

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