Newspaper Ink & Family History

1-Mike Staton

I like cannons. This is me, Michael Staton, at the Vicksburg National Battlefield Park. I’ve always liked history, both the nation’s and family.

There was a day a generation ago when folks subscribed to small daily and weekly newspapers to keep up on community news – what their relatives and friends were doing.

 

When the newspaper kid came riding up on his bicycle and tossed the newspaper onto the front porch, you brought it into the living room, sat in the recliner with an iced tea on the side table, and opened it to the society/life section. Within those pages you’d keep up with the engagements, weddings, debutante balls, high school and college graduations and reunions, baby notices, birthday celebrations, family reunion picnics, vacation write-ups, miscellaneous doings, and death notices. Often, you’d help your grandmother or mother cut out clippings and place them in the family photo albums.

I’m a retired journalist, a BSJ graduate of Ohio University, Class of 1974. At my first newspaper job at a small daily in Central Ohio in the 1970s, I had what some might call ho-hum responsibilities. I helped out with obituaries, wrote the 10/20/30/40 Years Ago column (used a microfilm reader), and edited the copy of the 10 or so village correspondents who mailed in their weekly happenings columns for Fairfield County towns like Sugar Grove, Amanda, Carroll, Millersport, Rushville, Bremen and Baltimore.

Carnival

Jesse Edwards was my great-uncle, a son of a Civil War soldier. Jesse was quite the character. He owned a carnival home-based in Wooster, Ohio, and traveled the carnival/county fair circuit in the early 20th century.

By the time, I took a newspaper job at a daily in Central Florida in the 1980s, editors were culling down community news. In the newsroom, we’d get the write-ups on family and school reunions, vacations, birthday parties and the other sundry news items, condense them to a paragraph and include them in a once-a-week feature in the Life section. Now and then I’d pick up a phone call and listen to a disgruntled reader complain about the lack of community news in the paper.

 

By the 1990s and the rise of the Internet and Social Media complete with political blogs, daily newspapers were ripe for a fall. And they have, especially the major dailies. They’ve shrunk, circulation, advertising revenue, page size and even their dimensions. They’re desperately trying to stay afloat as many readers have flown to other news sources, mostly the blogs.

The only newsroom oasis left are the weekly newspapers in small towns all over the U.S., towns like Kenansville, North Carolina, the home of the Duplin Times. I worked as a reporter there for several years before I retired in January 2014. There, you’d find those old staples of community news – as well as hard-hitting editorials and hard news stories about 21st century challenges impacting small towns. In its circulation classification, the Duplin Times has won Associated Press laurels for its outstanding coverage and page layout.

Vadvellian dies

I hope the type on this newspaper clipping is readable. It’s about another great-uncle, James Edwards, a vaudeville showman. He died on stage. 

My cousin John Snyder got me thinking about the health of American newspapers. On Facebook, he recently posted an interesting folder in his photo album… it’s called Family History in Newspaper Clippings. I spent a good couple of hours perusing the clippings looking at the newspaper stories about the relatives I knew from my youth as well as the ancestors I only know through visits to cemeteries in Wayne County, Ohio. The clippings were cut out and saved by his Grandma Ethel Snyder. You may remember her. I wrote a love story about her and John’s grandpa, Raymond Snyder. I posted the short story – A Winter’s Walk Beneath A Starry Sky – on Writing Wranglers & Warriors in 2015. Stories I heard from my mother and grandmother came back to me as I looked at those clippings – the deaths of my great-grandparents within a week or so of each other in the summer of 1920, the tragic death of another great-grandmother (burned badly in a stove explosion), a birthday celebration for a great-great grandmother, my great uncle’s carnival going on the road in the early 1930s for the summer festival season.

 

Two of the clipping I’m including as illustration with this article are about the carnival owner, Jesse Edwards, and his brother, James Edward. Just like Jessie, James was a showman. Over nearly three decades, the Wooster, Ohio, newspaper followed the career Jessie as he took his carnival company to festivals, fairs and parades across Northern Ohio. Aunt Ethel faithfully saved those clippings highlighting the life of her Uncle Jessie, a brother of my Great-Grandma Ice Belle Edwards Kurtz.

According to newspaper accounts, Jessie’s brother James once walked across a whirlpool rapids on a cable. The clipping about James is the odd story of his on-stage death. A heart attack claimed the vaudevillian as he performed his dog act at a Kansas City theatre before a packed house of children and their parents. The Wooster newspaper used accounts from the Kansas City Star to detail the last minutes of James’ life, even described how a small black Spitz jumped down from its pedestal and licked his face just before his wife ran to his side and the curtain dropped.

Newspaper editors once knew their jobs, and one was capturing memories for their readers. Some still do it. Thank God weekly newspapers still know their mission.

# ##

I’m the author of a fantasy trilogy, Larenia’s Shadow. The three novels – The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin and Assassins’ Lair – are available for purchase on the websites of Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’m currently writing a Civil War novel, Blessed Shadows Dark And Deep.

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30 Responses to Newspaper Ink & Family History

  1. Joe Stephens says:

    I’m not quite your age, but am old enough to remember staying up late waiting for the paper to read news of my cousin’s exploits on the football field (he’s a legend in our state and was the starting quarterback at Ohio State for about a day until he destroyed his shoulder in practice). It was the first, best coverage available.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Now that gets me thinking. I recall a movie (I don’t remember the title, though) about a farmer who’d been a great high school quarterback who was recruited to play at Ohio State. He blew out his knee and couldn’t play for the Buckeyes. Instead, he married his sweetheart, had a little girl and farmed the land. There was a fantasy element to this movie… the quarterback got to see what is life would have been like had his knee not been ruined.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Doris says:

    I remember those days, and I was part and parcel of who they talked about. (Now that’s scary) Still, when I moved away I missed those stories of my neighbors. My mother kept getting the local paper to keep up. A sad part of keeping history alive, is slipping away. Doris

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      I can identify. I still sometimes look at the websites of the newspapers I worked for back in the day. Part of the treasure trove of news clippings are photos and stories of my mom’s birth, her high school graduation and her wedding.

      Like

  3. Travis says:

    I feel local papers are dying out. Where I live the weekly paper consolidated with a few others and are still printing for now. Who knows, there may be a resurgence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Who else is going to send a reporter to a village council meeting? Keep tabs on a school board? Do a story on a fire that the TV stations and big-city newspaper can’t bother with? Cover an elementary school assembly honoring a fifth-grade cancer survivor? Do a nice spread on the high school football or basketball game? Maybe the weekly paper-in-your-hand newspaper will transition to an online edition, but if it totally disappears, what will take its place to fill that ‘news’ vacuum?

      Like

  4. Our local paper came out Thursday afternoon and everyone was quick to grab one to see what was on sale at the local grocery stores, read the obits, the High School Sports pages, what was for sale, and the local news. We had three women in different parts of the county who wrote all the local gossip for their area. I miss those days and I still love to read the newspaper. I thoroughly enjoy your posts, Mike, and love the history of your family. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Thank you, Linda. When you see the dailies struggling and even some weeklies, and can get depressing for a 60-something retired reporter. In recent years, I worked for a chain owned by one of the sons of the former owner of the NFL Redskins football team. They bought a struggling small weekly in a SE North Carolina and after about a year, decided they weren’t willing to put in the resources to save the newspaper. It had been in competition with another county weekly newspaper. That newspaper bought it and shut it down. At least the county — Pender — still has a weekly newspaper. From the short amount of time I worked for weeklies in North Carolina, I think the staple news people craved was high school sports coverage. They lapped it up. And of course, they still liked their festivals and parades covered, and wanted to know what happened at the various council and commission meetings.

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  5. wyoauthor1 says:

    Wonderful piece, Mike. The long-time Casper weekly, The Casper Journal, has been sucked into the portal of the daily, state-wide paper, The Casper Star Tribune. Now the Journal is, in essence, a component of the Wednesday section of the Trib, which is owned by the national Lee Enterprises. Very sad — lots of local coverage now dead. I used to write frequently for the Journal. Now my stories, about Wyoming’s Vietnam veterans, are part of the state-wide circulation, which in many ways, is nice. But, I do miss writing the “community news/features,” and I’m sad to see most features becoming an endangered species. Thanks for the great insights and more information on your family history!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      That is sad. The weekly newspaper’s owner sold out, eh? The country is really dumbing down, isn’t it? More emphasis on mean-spirited political blogs filled with outright distortions. Less and less straight news coverage without an ax to grind.

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  6. Thank you for sharing some of your interesting family history.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Nancy Jardine says:

    Our local papers have managed to continue with little change over the almost 3 decades that I’ve lived here- Mike. Colour photos replaced B & W ones in the 1990s and they’re mostly now available on line, but not much has changed in the reporting styles. I know of at least 2 freelance photographers who have ‘worked for’ the local rags for all of that time and they still go on doing their bit, popping in when invited or when they hear word of something. I’m glad to say that my local newspapers have been very good at doing new press column for me when I’ve had a book release or when I’ve been doing author talks in the locale. The ‘rags’ contain community news and personal family news when there’s an impact somehow on the community. The death of your great uncle on stage must have been a pretty traumatic event for the audience and no doubt discussed for a long time after.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Glad to see the local papers in Scotland are doing good. Your point about a newspaper covering an author’s new releases is a good one. I could get nice write-ups in weeklies, but the big daily would give me a couple of paragraphs.

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  8. Wranglers says:

    I have to confess, I’ve never been a big newspaper reader, my parents were readers of the Sunday paper and when we had a little extra money the daily paper. I have lots and lots of clippings from newspapers, mostly about Del and I doing Social Service work, helping people out. We also have several from when we had our restaurant, and a couple from the bar (back in the bad ole days), lots of my family have been in the paper for one thing or another. My granddaughter, Rachel Grogg has been in the paper continually because of her great grades, art, and science projects. My kids and other grandkids for sports. I feel sad for the newspapers. I wonder if they have considered putting fiction stories in them, like they used to do. Very interesting blog. Thanks Cher’ley

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      If I were to start a weekly paper, I think I’d experiment with using short stories and serialized novelettes. I have to admit… sometimes you surprise me, Cherley. I had to idea you and Del had a restaurant and, of all things, a bar. Where was the bar located? In West Virginia, maybe Parkersburg or across the river in Ohio? You should consider doing on of your Writing Wranglers posts on the restaurant and bar. I think people would find the feature story interesting. I know I would.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wranglers says:

        LOL Mike, We have worn a lot of hats, and we still do. We’re both very anxious to sit on the beach next winter and paint, maybe even do a little carving (for Del). The bar was a lot of years ago and it was in Texas. It was really more like a restaurant that only served pizza and cold sandwhiches. LOL I was very particular about who came in, and there was no bad language or fights. I also made a living one time, when we moved back to WV and couldn’t find jobs, as a pool shark. That lasted for a couple of months and then I couldn’t get anyone within driving distance to play me, but we got other jobs by then. Cher’ley

        Liked by 2 people

  9. katewyland says:

    I don’t remember a weekly where I grew up, just the biggies. In recent years we lived in a suburb of a big city and had a twice a week that seemed to do pretty well. It was always fun to read about local events, instead just the city stuff. At our new place the “local” paper has such a bad delivery reputation that I haven’t subscribed. After reading a paper all my life it seems strange to depend on tv news now. I’ll have to investigate more.
    I’m sure you enjoyed doing the local stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      I’d go crazy with just a big daily and TV news. They actually cover very little, just the big stuff. All the TV stations in Vegas focus mostly on the fatal fires, murders, car and pedestrian accidents, and the generally crazy stuff Vegas is famous for. Recently, it was the couple videotaped and fined for having sex in that giant ferris wheel whose actual name escapes me. Just saw a week or so ago that the guy on the ferris wheel was murdered in Houston.

      Like

  10. Neva Bodin says:

    Interesting blog, Mike, as always. The newspapers back in my home towns of about 2000 still run gossip columns, although not as many and not as long as 30 years ago. I believe they gave a sense of community and were something to read besides the bad news stories about legislative activities, markets, crime etc. Our big town newspaper where we now live devotes 1-2 pages on crime, more on whose fighting over rights or suing, and one whole section on sports. Not much on inspiring people to greater achievements. Personally, I get much inspiration from the funnies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      When a teenager in the late 1960s and visiting my grandparents at their Rittman, Ohio, home, I’d read the funny section of the Wooster Record. Fun reading Peanuts, Steve Canyon, BC, Little Orphan Annie. Seems like the funnies back than were much, much bigger in newspapers. Something else that has shrunk.

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  11. I love reading the paper and always have. My major in school was Mass Communications and i thought about emphasizing in Journalism but I went with Film/TV instead. I used to subscribe to the LA Times which I read diligently, especially the Calendar section and Book Reviews. Then the paper started to pile up and i’d feel guilty for not reading it. But the paper is great for getting story ideas. Now I look forward to Thursdays when we get our 2 free local papers. I think it’s such good discipline to be a reporter and i admire you for it. It takes a strong work ethic and is such good preparation for being a novelist. Sometimes I wish I chose journalism as my emphasis. Thanks for the fascinating post, Mike.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      You mentioning the LA Times reminds me of reading the LA Times in the back of our car back in 1961 or 1962. I think we were on the way to my aunt’s house in Torrance. There was a fanciful story in it with some theorizing about what Venus might be like beneath its thick clouds. A jungle with lots of jungle, etc. Can’t help but laugh now. But it helped pique my interest and love in space exploration. I figure the newspaper did the story after NASA launched its first unmanned spacecraft to Venus in 1961-62 period. It’s flyby in 1962 found a planet with a temperature around 1,000 degrees. End of picturesque jungle theories. Too bad that hadn’t turned out to be the case. We probably would have a much stronger space program, perhaps with a colony on Venus by now.

      Like

  12. Mike Staton says:

    Now we also learn you were a pool shark in your younger days, Cherley Grogg. You’re definitely not someone who can be pigeonholed.

    Like

  13. Mike,
    The town newspaper still survives where I grew up in a small suburb of Philadelphia. It comes out once a week. Newspaper reading is becoming a lost art. I do a newspaper tear and restoration in my magic act, but first I have to explain what a newspaper is to the kids.
    Thanks for getting us to think about papers.
    – Stephen

    Like

    • Mike Staton says:

      Wow. I hadn’t realized it had become so bad for newspapers that you have to explain what a newspaper is to little kids. I thought I might get a comment from you regarding the death of my great-uncle on a theatrical stage. Not a magical act like you, but still something kids like to see — dogs doing tricks. Wish I could have met him. He and his brother were obviously great characters.

      Like

  14. S J Brown says:

    Like you I think newspapers have lost something over the years. Their practice of putting in announcements just once a week means many people only pick up a copy once a week instead of daily.
    It really is a small world I have a copy of the Duplin Times I picked up last time I was in North Carolina.

    Like

  15. Kathy Waller says:

    Loved this post. My family subscribed to three weekly “county” newspapers, plus either the San Antonio or the Austin paper, depending on which was delivering at the time to our minuscule town fifty miles away. Each little town had a columnist who reported “news”–mainly who had weekend company and who left town for the weekend, and special church functions. Fun to read, and I miss them. My favorite, however, was a particular headline. There was a big party for my great-aunt’s hundredth birthday at the retirement home where she lived, and the next week, the headline read, “Centurion Celebrates Birthday.”

    Like

  16. Kathy Waller says:

    Okay, Cher’ley, where was your bar in Texas? And have you read Leon Hale’s Bonney’s Place?

    Like

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