Newspapers are usually a great resource for learning about the history of a small American town. They provide glimpses into the daily lives of the town’s residents. In any given issue of most small town papers, you may learn anything from the details of a young couple’s wedding reception and honeymoon to the price of butter and how the weather is affecting that year’s planting.
But, you are going to have a problem if the small American town you hope to learn about is Clontarf, Minnesota. Clontarf never had a newspaper. The Benson papers covered the major news from Clontarf and the Hancock Recorder sporadically included a couple of columns called Clontarf Clippings and Tara Tidbits, but with no newspaper of its own, the daily happenings of Clontarf are largely undocumented.
Fortunately, all is not lost, and there are other routes we can take to learn about Clontarf’s history. We have previously mentioned how the development of the Clontarf community was closely tied to the Catholic Church. The Church attracted many of the settlers to Clontarf and remained a vital component to their lives. The Church kept comprehensive records from the beginning, in 1878. If you can get past the Latin and the fancy script, these records are both informative and fascinating.
At the very least, church records provide the basic information – names and dates of baptisms, marriages, and burials. St. Malachy’s records almost always provide additional information such as names of witnesses. This information may tell us which families were friendly or related. Baptism records can clear up confusion on names and birth order of siblings, while confirmation and marriage records clue you in on how long people stayed in the area.
Sometimes you get lucky and come across information in church records such as notes in the margins of a baptism entry stating where and to whom the individual married or a previously unknown place of birth will be revealed. You may learn of a child who was born and died within a few hours or was still-born. These details go a long way in fleshing out the stories of the past.