There are a few things I learned while looking for deaths in hundreds of old newspapers from the late 1800s, besides that it’s very hard to just scan the page for information. A lot of these things I was already well aware of, but it’s still good to know when going into it.
One, these papers are just chock full of information. The Milwaukee Journal papers from the mid-1880s are only 4 pages long, but they have so much information. Once you find sections like “Wisconsin News” and “Jottings About Town” where they have dozens of small bits of information in a list, you see all kinds of neat things.
Two, they knew all kinds of information about the least important people. Unlike today where most of the information in the paper is from big stories, in these you can find stories about a toddler that broke her arm or where your neighbors were visiting this week.
Three, they didn’t sugarcoat anything. I’ve read through enough articles about men being pulled through machinery or crushed by trains to last me a lifetime. One article noted (not quoting, but going off of memory here) that “he was pulled into the machine, his limbs torn off and his body ripped in half.”
Four, a lot of people were labeled as insane or committed suicide. It was a different time back then. A lot of stories talk about how someone just instantly went insane and was committed to the asylum, or how someone committed suicide by drowning themselves in a fit of insanity. I have a feeling the percentage of suicides today may not be that much less, but they reported on them more back then (see #2.)
Five, you will probably find something about someone related to your family if they lived in the area. Again, going off of #1 and #2, there are so many tidbits of info, the odds are pretty good. I have not yet come to the years when my family lived in Milwaukee, but I’m definitely going to look closer once we get to 1891-92.
I hope the little bit of transcribing helps someone out there. It’s fun for me to look at the history of Milwaukee through the eyes of the papers and its citizens. If you haven’t visited the Milwaukee Deaths database, we’re up over 920 entries now.