Legal Notices in Newspapers
The requirement that some judicial actions (in cases including more persons than the principals) cannot be concluded without public notice carries side benefits for the genealogist. Legislatures either provided for and supported an official county or community publication, or they designated existing newspapers for these purposes. Examples of listed actions include land sales for payment of taxes, administration in probate, proving of wills, heirship determination and the settlement of estates, pending divorce proceedings, sales of properties of insolvent estates, and more. When court records are not available for any reason, these public notices can help fill the gap. Or, a legal notice spotted in a newspaper search might direct the researcher to otherwise unknown court records. The chance spotting in a newspaper of a court docket might be the only clue leading to a divorce case that solves a perplexing genealogical problem. The growing number of digitized and indexed newspapers online makes findings like this increasingly common.
In larger cities, this function was often covered by a special kind of professional newspaper, devoted entirely to publishing legal notices. For example, the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, which began publication in 1854, has calendars, reports, and public notices from every court for Chicago and Cook County. For the genealogist, these entries can be the key to locating original case files and other court records.
Actually, any legal record could be printed in a newspaper, wherever local authorities were required to make public a specific set of facts or where they felt it to be in the public interest to do so.
Patents for inventions were occasionally mentioned in local papers. Learning that an ancestor was an inventor may come as a surprise to some researchers, and this sort of information was not easily located before the days of the Internet. A list of local residents who were granted patents was located on a search of the Brooklyn Page. The original list was published in the Union Argus of 5 June 1879:
- The following named residents of this city are reported by Mr. A.V. Brieson for having patents issued to them:
- J.B. Fuller—electric candle
- S.H. Miller—shade supporting attachment
- J.I. Healey—Vehicle Wheel Hub
- W. Nagle—device for stretching the toes of boots and shoes