Finding relatives in newspaper ads

On our quest to find ancestors, we family historians routinely comb old newspapers for clues about social engagements, marriages, births, and deaths. While scanning the column inches of text, it is worth checking out newspaper advertisements, too.

I recently found a great deal of biographical information about a basically unknown (to me) great-grandfather through an advertisement. He was an employee of an oil company in southern West Virginia. That company ran a full-page ad apparently in an attempt to win over local support for the company. The ad featured brief profiles of several respectable community members who were affiliated with the company in some way: an investor, a consumer, and, among others, a man named Harrison Conn — my great-grandfather. That ad included a photo of him (I previously had no idea what he looked like), and biographical details such as his place of residence, how long he had worked for the company, the kind of work he did, and the union with which he was active. This one ad provided more information about Harrison Conn than I had found in newspaper copy.

To me, this experience of finding great-grandpa in an advertisement got to the essence of the research experience. Keeping your eyes peeled and looking in the unexpected places can often yield wonderful results.


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