A Sad Story – Finding Details in Newspaper Articles
January 3, 2020
On Sunday morning December 15, 1899, Jane Ann Terry left her younger sister, Edith, to watch over Jane Ann’s baby Fannie while she went to take care of some chores outside the house. Her husband, Durbin, had left earlier that morning to walk over to his parents’ home for a shave, but Jane and little Fannie had remained at home since it had recently rained and then snowed, and the paths were cold and muddy.
Telling Edith she’d be back in just a few minutes, Jane hurried outside and into a nearby shed. Just as she stepped inside, Edith heard a crash as the entire roof of the shed fell down upon Jane. Edith hurried outside to try to help her sister, but the straw-covered roof was too thick and too heavy from all of the recent precipitation for her to budge. Quickly she ran the half-mile to the nearest neighbors, screaming for help. The neighbors ran back with her, but it soon became clear that Jane had been crushed by the weight of the roof. She had died instantly, leaving her husband and baby to mourn her.
Jane Ann Terry was twenty-two years old when she died, and she would have celebrated her second anniversary with her husband Durbin within a couple of days of her death. Her first child, Fannie, was only ten-months old at the time of Jane Ann’s death. The story of Jane Ann’s death is especially meaningful to me since she was my great grandmother, and her daughter Fannie was my grandmother. While our family always knew that Jane Ann had died young in some sort of accident, none of us, including my grandmother, knew any of the details about her sad fate. Jane Ann’s husband remarried within a few years and never spoke of her mother’s death to my grandmother. It was only when we located a newspaper article about Jane’s accident that we learned any details about the tragic death of the young wife and mother.
While Jane Ann’s story is sad, it’s one that has great meaning to her descendants, and it’s one that would have included few details had it not garnered an article in the local newspaper. Stories like Jane Ann’s are one of the great finds available to genealogists nowadays because so many newspapers have been digitized and are readily searchable in various ways including by name, date and even subject. For example, Jane Ann’s story is not findable by searching for “Jane Ann Terry” since she is never referred to as anything but “Mrs. Terry.” However, by learning a few tricks, such as the fact that married women were rarely referenced by their first names in stories written in the 19th century, articles such as the one about Jane Ann are readily found. In Jane Ann’s case, searching for the surname Terry and the month and year of the accident quickly brought up the article about her death.
There are free newspaper collections such as Chronicling America and state by state historic newspapers projects available, but it’s often worth a short term subscription to a website such as Newspapers.com, GenealogyBank or Newspaper Archive. These “pay for view” websites have large, ever growing collections of digitized newspapers, and it’s definitely worth checking whether they have coverage of an area where an ancestor may have lived. Although these three websites are not free, finding an article like the one about Jane Ann Terry’s death makes a subscription well worth the cost.
Researcher/Director at Large
 “Mrs. Terry Killed by Falling Timbers Under a Cow Shed,” The Standard (Ogden, Utah), 21 December 1899. P1, column 1, accessed 1 January 2020, https://www.newspapers.com/image/24726218/?terms=terry .