African-American Newspapers Tell Your Story

Many African-Americans don’t have stories to tell about their ancestors. But the old local newspapers do!

In the digital age we can discover more about our families. We can do this with access to the technology that scans and indexes newspapers from communities across the country. Historically, many African-American communities did not have influence on or access to the news that affected them. Because of segregation they were not included in the social pages of many local newspapers. So, they published their own. This is true for Topeka and many other Kansas cities and towns.

The Plaindealer, Topeka’s African-American Newspaper

In Topeka we are fortunate to have had several newspapers. One of them, The Plaindealer, was a rival of newspapers across the country! Nick Chiles, started the newspaper in January 1899. This long-running newspaper captured the events and stories of many people in the community. There are also stories about politics and what was happening around the country.

My family submitted articles about family events, social gatherings and church events. This is how I found my great grandmother. I was searching 20 years for information about her! I thought maybe she died early, because I couldn’t find her in the Census or any other records. Then one day I was reading about her sister in the social pages of The Plaindealer. Low and behold I found a reference to her sister, my great grandmother, who went by a different name. Some time later I found out that she was divorced and remarried. But that newspaper record helped me to find that she still lived at that time.

Since that discovery, I have searched for every reference The Plaindealer had of my grandmother and her family members. I have put together a timeline to tell her story. I did this all by reading the local newspaper during her lifetime.

There are several African-American newspapers for communities around the country. Don’t just look where your ancestors lived. Search all the newspapers for the area during the lifetime of your ancestors. You never know what information you can find to tell your family’s story.

Check out the Library’s database on African-American Resources with your library card. You’ll find newspapers from all over the country, including Kansas and Topeka. Visit the library’s Baker Genealogy Center and we’ll help you find information to tell your family’s story.

Find out more about the African-American newspaper collection.

Sherri Camp

Being the Genealogy Librarian at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library is so much fun! As a veteran genealogist, I love teaching and sharing digital family history and genealogy techniques and helping people solve genealogy problems. My work is to promote a greater knowledge of family heritage.