Wednesday, September 30, 2020

"Local Experts in This Common Frailty"


When it comes to livening up family history, you've just got to hand it to newspapers: they can provide the best stories—if you can find any. When I search in archived newspaper collections for ancestors, besides focusing on the predictable dates of birth, marriage, or death, I always make a second sweep of possibilities on a given ancestor's name by formulating search parameters wide enough to capture those stray mentions of the individual anywhere in the midst of his or her lifespan.

Some lives, of course, are boring and predictable, and not much can be found to add any color to such biographies. In the case of Mark Falvey, ancestor of one of my husband's Falvey DNA matches, he did merit a few appearances in the Springfield, Massachusetts, newspapers of his time.

Even though we can find a mention of an ancestor, though, the news articles mentioning our ancestor may not provide much in the way of substance. Still, we may be able to glean inferences, or compile details to assemble a clearer picture of day to day occurrences and attitudes about life for our relatives of previous generations.

Take this one article I found about Mark Falvey from page six of the Springfield Republican on January 27, 1890. Not much about the family can be gleaned from that particular entry in the Monday edition, other than the name of the street they lived on, and that the Falveys had been attending a church event the previous Saturday. Yet this brief paragraph provides a snapshot, a "day in the life of" moment to give a sense of what life was life for this particular family in the community they called home. 

In the Republican's review of events from Hampden County on that day was this brief paragraph:

A young man, who gave his name as Albert Smith of Holyoke, was captured Saturday morning under suspicious circumstances in Mark Falvey's house on Dwight street, which he had entered while the family were attending the mission in progress at the church of the Holy Name. One of the family returned unexpectedly and caught Mr Smith in the act of dodging under the bed in a chamber where he had been going through a bureau drawer, and the interloper was promptly delivered up to the police. No stolen property was found on his person, but a pocket-book which had been in the drawer was found under the bed, and it will probably go hard with young Mr Smith in the police court this morning. When taken to the police station the culprit tried to play the part of a drunken man, but the local experts in this common frailty declare his imitation poor.

If nothing else, reading our ancestors' newspapers can give us a sense of how their newspaper represented daily life in their community—and, in some cases, a humorous twist in that editorial point of view.

There are, of course, other times when the fortunate researcher can locate an article on an ancestor which provides much more than a wry chuckle. The occasion of Mark and Bridget Falvey's fifty-first wedding anniversary, which we'll review tomorrow, was such an example. 

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