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Local Context for National Stories

(A Note from the Editor) Permanent link
Lynn Betlock

Lynn Betlock
Managing Editor

Two weeks ago, I visited the Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site in Little Falls, Minnesota. My parents both grew up in Little Falls, and I’d visited the Lindbergh site, which is operated by the Minnesota Historical Society, since I was a child. This time, I brought my own kids. In the visitors’ center we watched the introductory movie, with original footage from Lindbergh’s historic 1927 flight across the Atlantic, and my kids enjoyed playing in the Spirit of St. Louis replica cockpit.


What made the biggest impression on me, though, were the laminated reproductions of newspaper front pages reporting Lindbergh’s accomplishment. Newspapers from New York, Paris, and other major metropolitan areas were represented, and their stories were compelling. But most interesting to me was the front page from the Little Falls newspaper. I picked that one up, sat down, and read every word.


While I had many relatives living in Little Falls in 1927, I didn’t expect to find any of their names in the story — and I didn’t. What came through loud and clear, though, was the excitement of a community responding to one of their own — someone who had played there on the banks of the Mississippi and attended Little Falls High School — making good in the most spectacular way imaginable. The articles allowed me to get a sense of what this exciting event would have been like for my two grandmothers, Erna Smith, age seven, and Bobbie Flack, age nine, as well as their parents and even grandparents. (One grandmother always said two of her older sisters flew with Charles Lindbergh in Little Falls, presumably before his transatlantic flight. I wish I could find documentation of that!)


What I took away from this experience was the unique perspective a local newspaper could provide on events of national importance. While genealogists generally recognize that historic newspapers are an invaluable resource for finding specific information about ancestors, I hadn’t fully considered how much local color and context a hometown newspaper could provide about a major news event. These accounts convey the impact of national news on an ancestor’s community and provide an additional layer of information about the lives our ancestors led. In the future, I know I’ll be using newspapers of the past in an entirely new way.

Posted by Jean Powers at 08/12/2011 08:00:00 AM | 

Old newspapers are fabulous. Example: _There Stands "Old Rock": Rock County, Wisconsin, and the War to Preserve the Union_ by Thomas Walterman is an award-winning book, based almost solely on newspapers, that describes one county's experiences in the Civil War.
Posted by: Hunny ( Email ) at 8/12/2011 8:56 AM

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