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Friday, April 2, 2010

Newspapers and research

I'm in the process of cleaning out my parents' family home. We moved here from Shelbyville in 1967 and this has been home to my family until last fall when my Dad passed away. Mom had passed away in 2000. We are still dealing with their loss. If you have lost your parents, the feeling of being an orphan -- no matter how old you are -- is overwhelming.

While sorting through an old cedar chest (my Mom's "Hope Chest"), my sister and I found an edition of the The Shelbyville News dated November 1, 1963. The headline read "LOCAL PERSONS AMONG VICTIMS AS COLISEUM DISASTER KILLS 63". The front page told the sad details of the explosion at the Indianapolis Coliseum.

My aunt and uncle, Charles and Jenny Williams, were there that night. They had tickets for Holiday On Ice. It was Halloween night, a night my sister and I usually went by their house to "trick or treat" and show them our costumes. They just lived around the corner from our house. That night, we went to see them but found the house was dark. When we went home, Mom reminded us that Uncle Charlie and Aunt Jenny had gone to the show in Indianapolis.

My Aunt Jenny was killed in that explosion.

I still remember that my Dad and his other brother, Bud, went to Indianapolis to try to find Aunt Jenny. A survivor of the accident had found my aunt's purse and had given it to the police, so Dad knew that wherever Aunt Jenny was, she did not have any identification. He went with his brother and sister-in-law to every hospital but was unable to find Aunt Jenny. Their last stop was the temporary morgue at the Coliseum. It was here that they found her.

Uncle Charlie was in Methodist Hospital with a broken leg and other injuries. He was transferred to Major Hospital after a week or so. I would often stop in to visit him on my walk home after school. I remember watching the funeral of President Kennedy with him while he was in that hospital room. It was such a sad time.

Until I found this newspaper, all I had was an obituary about my Aunt's death. I didn't remember that 63 people had been killed in the explosion or that more than 300 were injured. The Shelbyville News reported that the cause of the blast was probably caused by a broken valve on a butane gas tank. Another Shelbyville resident, Mrs. Bernice Tillison, was also killed. An eyewitness stated "I saw people blown from their seats."

Reading all of this brought back many sad memories for my sister and me. It seemed as if this had just happened.

Old newspapers are a great source of history and family information. If you don't use them in your genealogical research you may miss some vital information. Most libraries have back issues of local papers on microfilm and believe me, it is well worth the time to investigate them. While you may learn something sad in reading newspapers, you might also come across a funny description of a party or family gathering, an engagement, or a wedding announcement.

Give newspapers a try. You might be surprised at what you find.