Ethnic and Foreign-Language Newspapers
Newspapers have traditionally been a source of pride, a means of bonding, and a way for members of ethnic groups to read news written specifically for and about their own communities. Unfortunately, collections of ethnic and foreign language newspapers have been scattered, and until the advent of the Internet, it has been difficult for the average researcher to find or access many of the collections. A few ethnic bibliographies were helpful, yet few were comprehensive.
James P. Danky, newspaper and periodical librarian at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, led a project to produce a comprehensive guide to newspapers and periodicals of African Americans. The African-American Newspapers and Periodicals: A National Bibliography and Union List is a description of more than 6,500 titles and their locations.2 A follow-up grant has been awarded to the Society from the National Endowment for the Humanities to preserve African American periodicals on microfilm. The Wisconsin Historical Society has online images of Freedom’s Journal, the first African American owned and operated newspaper published in the United States (1827 to 1829).
A history of African American newspapers that leads to dozens of these publications can be found at http://cti.itc.virginia.edu/~aas405a/newspaper.html.
Immigrants arrived in the United States with their own culture, customs, and language. They were all hungry for news from their homelands, where most had left relatives and friends. The foreign-language press opened a natural channel of communication to bridge the Old World and the new environment.
Where major local newspapers often overlooked or carried one-line death notices of persons who, the person often received detailed notice in his or her ethnic newspaper. If you don’t read the language, broad searches in a foreign-language paper may not be possible, but an obituary reads like an obituary in virtually any language. If an item can be located, perhaps by recognizing your ancestor’s name, it can usually be copied and translated later, either through the word-by-word dictionary method or through the services of someone who does read the language.
Ethnic organizations are still numerous throughout the United States, and most of them publish their own foreign-language newspapers. Large collections can be found in the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota and at a number of major libraries, archives, and state historical organizations. These centers seek and preserve immigrant materials for all groups.
More specialized collections, concentrating on a particular group, include the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, and the Czech and Slovak American Genealogical Society of Illinois and the Polish Genealogical Society of America.
The Polish Society published Index to the Obituaries and Death Notices Appearing in the Dziennik Chicagoski, which is available as a set of four volumes, covering 1900 through 1930. These works have approximately 80,000 names of individuals whose obituaries or death notices were published in the Dziennik Chicagoski, Chicago’s leading Polish newspaper. If you have any family ties with Chicago, these volumes are a tremendous help in finding relatives and family members in Polonia’s largest Polish community.
The Denni Hlasatel Obituary Index is available on CD from the Czech and Slovak American Genealogy Society of Illinois through their CSAGSI Store. This index is considered a “must” for those doing research on Czechs in Illinois.