Michigan's first newspaper, The Michigan Essay or Impartial Observer, was published in Detroit on 31 August 1809 for one single edition. Continuous newspaper publishing began in July of 1817 with the Detroit Gazette. The most important articles in this English-language publication were also printed in French on the last page. The Library of Michigan has an extensive collection of microfilmed Michigan newspapers, which are available for use at the library or through interlibrary loan to other Michigan libraries. The Bentley Historical Library in Ann Arbor and the Detroit Public Library also have large Michigan newspaper collections.
While records of birth, marriage, and death are the most commonly sought and the most consistently helpful records, only the genealogist’s imagination and resourcefulness limit newspapers’ usefulness in supplying clues about historical events, local history, probate court and legal notices, real estate transactions, political biographies, announcements, notices of new and terminated partnerships, business advertisements, and notices for settling debts.
Newspapers can provide at least a partial substitute for nonexistent civil records. For example, a person’s obituary may have appeared in a newspaper even when civil death records for that person do not exist. And newspapers are an important source of marriage records, particularly in those states where civil recording of marriages was essentially nonexistent until the twentieth century.
Unlike official records, newspapers are not limited to a particular geographical area. They often include reports of the weddings of local citizens (even those that occurred in a neighboring county or another state), and they sometimes report visits of geographically distant relatives or the visits of former local residents. They often published death notices of individuals who had left the area long before but who still had local family or friends as well. In each case the newspaper account can identify the date and place of an event, thus opening the possibility of turning up additional documentation in other sources.
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The first step in searching a newspaper is to identify those which served the area of interest and which have survived. The three most necessary tools are bibliographies (What was published?), inventories of library and depository holdings (Where is it?), and indexes (How do I find what I want in it?).