One of my favorite things in this job is when I get emails from people asking me to help research their relatives. So many people have heard stories about a grandpa, great-grandpa or great uncle who was supposedly wrestler, and they want to know more. I am always happy to lend a hand in these circumstances, mining my own databases as well as searching the web, but I thought I’d share my own process for researching wrestlers of the past for anyone who wants to give it a try.
Step 1: Know Who You Are Looking For
Your grandpa might have been Joe Smith to the family, but who was he in the ring? Like actors and pop stars, many wrestlers adopted ring names to allow them to separate work from home. The first thing you need to know is what name they used in the ring. The Black Panther Jim Mitchell used his real name, Jim Mitchell, in addition to his Black Panther moniker, but Lord Leslie Carlton was born Leo Whippern and had previously wrestled under the name Tug Carlson. Maybe Joe Smith was Masked Samson, or Krusher Smith, or “Jumpin’ Joe” Flash. Knowing their ring name is going to be key to telling their story.
Step 2: Find Out Where They Were
If your relative worked for any length of time, especially during the golden age, their matches should be recorded on Wrestlingdata.com. This free website is far from complete, but it’s a goldmine of information. Not only can you learn alternate ring names and other trivia, you can get a general sense of where they wrestled and when, broken down by month and year.
Prior to writing Jim Mitchell and Lord Carlton’s biographies, I went through the records on wrestlingdata.com to put together a timeline of their careers. Again, these weren’t complete, and I was able to find some inaccuracies in Jim Mitchell’s timeline. (There were a lot of Black Panthers back in the day!) But the timeline gave me an overall sense of where these men were and when.
Incidentally, I already have a similar timeline put together for Wee Willie Davis and Elvira Snodgrass.
Step 3: Search for Their Story
Once you know their ring names and have a good sense of where they were, head over to newspapers.com. This is a pay site, unfortunately, but it’s not too expensive and well worth the cost. You can subscribe to the archives of many individual newspapers, or you can get a general subscription to all the papers on the site.
Once you’re signed up and logged in, the real treasure hunt begins. Type in the name you are looking for in quotes and hit search. You may not hit pay dirt right away, but if you don’t, do not get discourages. The search may need some tweaking. You can modify your search terms, filter by date, and even filter by state.
Be sure to try all the aliases you have for your search subject. Also, if you come across a misspelling of their name, try searching by that misspelling. You’d be amazed how poorly the old newspapers were proofread, especially the sports section, and especially the wrestling results.
It may take some time, but if you stick with it, you’ll get a handle on how to search newspapers.com and figure out the idiosyncrasies of the website and its archives. More important, you’ll begin to piece together the story of that sweet grandpa of yours, whether he was a fresh faced babyface or a dastardly heel.
4. Share What You Learn
After you start finding stories and photos from the past, share them. Share with family, of course, but join some of the pro wrestling history groups on Facebook and share them in the groups. Not only will you find a delighted and eager audience for your ancestor’s story, you may find new photos, new leads, and new information that someone else already has.
The pro wrestling history community is very giving and very supportive. We’re all working together to find the pieces of this long-lost jigsaw puzzle that is wrestling’s past. I wish you story hunters luck, and if I can ever be of service, email me!