One of the best parts about the discovery that Penrose Hawkes had settled in Corning, New York, came with the realization that I could fill in the blanks on his everyday life through the pages of the local newspaper.
Granted, it's nice to find out that the city paper in one's target research area is included in a collection of newspapers. Even better to realize the collection is free to access by anyone with online connections. But the bonus to that discovery is the fact that it makes possible research that fills in the blanks in an ancestor's life which might not be available through decennial census enumerations or other infrequent—and official—documentation.
Not that Penrose Hawkes was my ancestor, of course; I only started this wild (and merry) chase, thanks to the discovery of the Hawkes family photo album in a local antique shop. But once smitten with curiosity over just who this man might have been—to say nothing of the other strangers in album's pages—I certainly was drawn to know more. And newspapers could fill that bill.
Thankfully, it turned out that one website provided that free window into Penrose's life. Granted, he must have been considered one of Corning's Most Eligible Bachelors for quite a while—at least judging by all the snippets which could be found in The Evening Leader on details of his daily life—but processing some of those articles and arranging them in a timeline could prove useful.
For instance, if you recall the discovery of Penrose's application for U.S. Passport, thanks to Ancestry.com, you might remember that the stated purpose for the application was to return to Ireland to visit his parents and family in 1923.
Presto! Confirmed in the local paper, thanks to this small entry in one of those "Looking Back" articles printed in 1938, was the following remembrance of fifteen years prior, when on Thursday, May 17, 1923, The Evening Leader had reported:
Penrose Hawkes has sailed for Queenstown, Ireland, where he will visit his parents, whom he will see for the first time since he left Ireland seven years ago.
Oh, the details that can be read between the lines of an article. Another such entry—this one carried in the same paper, but reporting the event as it happened in their Monday, December 9, 1929, edition—was this brief insertion:
CHRISTMAS IN IRELAND: Penrose Hawkes will sail Thursday on the Laconia for Ireland where he will spend Christmas with his mother.
Though the trip was likely much the same as the one in 1923—although exchanging summer sailing for an Atlantic crossing in winter—we can note another item which had changed. While the first trip anticipated a joyful reunion with "his parents," the second journey mentioned only a visit to his mother. Though I have yet to find a record of the senior Penrose Hawkes' passing, I can now narrow this event to a date range between 1923 and 1929. Furthermore, given the added risk of a winter passage, it might be reasonable to presume the loss had been recent and perhaps imposing an undue burden on his aging mother.
Searching for the name Penrose Hawkes in the Corning paper revealed dozens of results. It will be quite a task to catalog each one of them, but it will also be worth the information to construct a timeline of the reports. While many of those entries are but snippets in the news day—filler material for an era when layout and graphic design were an art form under time pressure—some of them did manage to reveal glimpses of significant detail.
For instance, remember my wondering about Penrose's wife, Marion? There had been no mention of her in the 1936 photo album, and yet he and his bride were married in New York just over a year later. I could find both Penrose and Marion listed in the 1940 census in New York City, but not much else about the couple.
In the newspaper, however, search efforts provided some helpful detail, not only regarding who Marion was, but what had become of her, shortly after that 1940 census entry.