Newspapers.com, Boolean search strings, and finding lost post Civil War ancestral lines

I always enjoy genealogy research conference calls with my Edgefield-connected cousins Donya, Sheila, and Loretta. They are always illuminating. Nine times out of ten, we can solve whatever thorny genealogical conundrum we’re faced with at the time. During a recent call with our cousin Donya, Loretta reminded me of a research strategy I had used to employ regularly…and had simply fallen out the the habit of doing.

The research strategy Loretta reminded me of was doing very broad searches using Newspapers.com.

As I mentioned in my previous post – Using military draft cards to find your kin during the post US Civil War migration periods via https://genealogyadventures.net/2018/01/12/using-military-draft-cards-to-find-your-kin-during-the-post-us-civil-war-migration-periods/ – my Old Ninety-Six regional kinspeople rode out of their native South Carolina in three big pulses:

  1. The first pulse came quickly upon the heels of the Civil War, with groups of ancestral kin leaving South Carolina for Ohio (Elyria, Ohio in particular), North Carolina (Winston-Salem, Asheville, and Raleigh in particular, as well as Halifax, Wake, and Buncombe Counties in general), and Arkansas. Smaller groups rode out to Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee during the same time period.
  2. The second migratory pulse occurred during the WWI era, with large groups of kin heading north to Michigan (mostly Detroit), Illinois (Cook County), Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, as well as Chester County), Washington D.C., Maryland (Baltimore), Delaware, New York, and New Jersey. A second pulse into North Carolina also occurred during this period.
  3. The third great movement of family occurred during WWII and continued through the 1950’s. Their ports of call mirrored those in the second pulse, with the addition of Massachusetts, Georgia, and, to a lesser extent, California, as places for relocation.

Newspapers.com has been a key resource in picking up the threads for many of my ancestral lines which left South Carolina. Using broad boolean search strings (permission granted to nerd out on that term!) on Newspapers.com has enabled me to find these lines; and follow up on what happened to them once they left South Carolina. 

What is Boolean Search?

The SocialTalent.com website defines a Boolean Search as a way to organise your search parameters using a combination of keywords, and the 3 main Boolean operators (AND, OR and NOT), to produce more accurate and more relevant results for online searches.

The first important thing to appreciate about Boolean, is that there are only 5 elements of syntax to understand. These are:

AND  OR  NOT  ()  “”

By applying these appropriately, along with the keywords you wish to consider, you can create a huge range of search operations. There is no limit to how often you can use any of these elements in a search, so you can create very specific search strings, which will save you a lot of time in filtering the results.

Think of this as fine-tuning or refining online searches to achieve better, more accurate, or more relevant online search results. For more in-depth explanations of Boolean searches and how to use them, please visit

https://www.socialtalent.com/blog/recruitment/the-beginners-guide-to-boolean-search-operators to see how recruitment consultants use these search strings. The article has real world examples that are easily adaptable to online genealogical searches.

I began my search using a simple, broad search string:

I wanted to focus on former Edgefieldians who lived and/or died in Pennsylvania with this search. I wanted to exclude any newspaper articles that mentioned Strom Thurman. The revelation that Strom had a natural born daughter with a black family servant was big news at the time. This wasn’t what I wanted to research. Using this boolean filter excluded some 100 or so articles from my Newspaper.com search. Which still left me with just over 3,000 articles to work through in Pennsylvania. In all, I found around 30 Pennsylvania newspaper articles, mostly obituaries and marriage\engagement announcements, that were very useful.

I repeated the same for Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and the District of Columbia. These were the main places I know my kinsmen removed to during the three migration pulses I outlined above. 

I will rinse and repeat this process for the following terms:

  • Of Abbeville
  • Of Aiken
  • Of Barnwell
  • Of Greenwood
  • Of Greenville
  • Of McCormick
  • Of Newberry
  • Of Richland
  • Of Saluda

These were significant places of origin connected to my South Carolina kinspeople. It only makes sense to use the same strategy to find kinspeople from these South Carolina areas in the various states I’ve listed above.

I will warn you in advance: this is a lengthy and time consuming research strategy. It casts the widest possible net. The rewards though outweigh the effort of sifting through each and every result.

So let’s take another look at the image I used above:

Take a look at the map image in column on the left side of the image. Anything jump out at you? It’s no surprise that South Carolina appears in a dark shade of the colour red. Edgefield is an old county in South Carolina. It stands to reason that there will be thousands of articles in South Carolina newspapers. So this isn’t significant in and of itself. You’d expect this to be the case.

No, what piqued my interest was why Tennessee appeared as a dark pink. I knew Edgefieldians had removed themselves to Tennessee. However, I thought these family groups were outliers. Newspapers.com was telling me there was far more going on than a handful of families moving from South Carolina to Tennessee. Something significant was happening.

I then found an important and very straightforward indication of what was going on:

Indeed, many of the early articles that formed the search results for Tennessee, that mentioned Edgefield, were dated between 1868 and 1890. This timeframe aligns with the first post Civil War pulse of migration I mentioned earlier. There was an interesting link between Nashville and Edgefield  which requires far more in-depth research. Something was going on for this relationship between these two places to have happened. At the moment, I have no idea what that the underlying force was nor when this relationship between these two areas began.

If the relationship between Nashville and Edgefield  was established earlier, in the slavery era, this will have implications for my research. The explanation could be, and probably is, that I will have enslaved kinspeople who were taken to Tennessee from Edgefield. Some of my  missing  Nineteen Century black ancestral lines will likely to be found in Tennessee, something I hadn’t considered in any great depth. Now, I have to consider this likelihood. Settle(s) / Suttle  is one Edgefield surname I’ve seen in some of the Tennessee articles from the 1870’s time period. That is one of the significant surnames from my direct line. I’m looking forward to investigating this further.

I do have one caveat. I have exclusively referenced Newspapers.com. There are other online Newspaper repositories, such as Chronicling America https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov. I understand Newspapers.com simply because I have used it for years, and I understand how it works with a deeper understanding than I do with other similar newspaper repositories. It’s a personal preference. You might find another divital newspaper archive service better suited to how your research needs. 

I will also use African American newspaper repositories to further locate family lines that were lost due to migration via https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/newspapers/?state=ðnicity=African+American&language#tab=tab_search

This research strategy is a lengthy one. However, it can reveal pure nuggets of gold.

One thought on “Newspapers.com, Boolean search strings, and finding lost post Civil War ancestral lines

  1. Thank you for sharing! I use the quotes but haven’t tried the others much yet. One note, the link that is supposed to go to the how to use boolean searches actually takes you to a Chronicaling America search result.

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