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Your Guide to Using Newspapers for Genealogical Research

 

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Learn more about newspaper research

There are several online articles that will help you learn more about doing newspaper research.

Reference Books on Newsapaper Research:

Digitized Historical Newspapers Available on the Web

Digitized/free *** Subscription Through Your Library *** Personal Subscription

Digitized/Free

These databases are available only through library subscriptions. Check to see if your library offers them. If not, see if a nearby large public or university library does. If so, you can use usually use the data bases in the library.

  • 19th Century U.S. Newspapers (Gale)
    • Described here
    • Includes the scanned content of approximately 500 U.S. newspapers published between 1800-1900.
    • Godfrey Memorial includes this in their databases.
  • America's Historical Newspapers (Readex)
    • Described here
    • Both NEHGS and the Godfrey library offer this to members through their website. Some of the earlier newspapers are available at large research libraries in a microform set, but of course they aren't fully searchable. The digital project is in 3 segments: Early American Newspapers Series I 1690-1876 and Early American Newspapers Series II 1758-1900, Series III 1829-1922. Relatively little has been added beyond segement I, but content is growing.
  • ProQuest Historical Newspapers (ProQuest)
    • It offers historical content of several big-city newspapers, but libraries can elect to subscribe only to specific newspapers, so not all libraries will have every choice.
  • 17th -18th centry Burney Collection includes titles from London, the British Isles and colonies.
  • 19th century British Library Newspapers, include national and regional newspapers in Great Britain.

How to find what subscriptions your library might have.

This might be tricky, because there is no standard way libraries convey this information.

As always, when in doubt, ASK A LIBRARIAN!

The databases listed below offer personal subscriptions:

  • $GenealogyBank.com$
    • This subsciption site includes other materials, but seems to be concentrating on adding to their newspaper collections.
  • $Newspaper Archive.com$
    • A huge collection of newspapers, historical and current. If only the quality matched the quantity!
      • The quality of the scans is not great; newspapers are difficult, but these are not done as well as some others.
      • All OCR of newspaper text is problematic, and this is no exception. It may be worse than some. There is no way to know how many "hits" are missed, but there are a great number of false results. This tells me that the indexing is trying to find any possible occurance; better too many hits than too few,.
      • The search options are useful; the results display page is very helpful; you can easily narrow down results.
      • I do NOT like their "new improved" flash viewer; I find it to be very difficult to read; if you agree, I recommend that you select the .pdf viewer instead of the flash viewer.
      • Over the years I've read about and experienced several complaints about how the company does business; problems cancelling subscriptions, raising annual rates after the first year, malfunctioning website, terrible or non existant customer service and, most recently, a useless web viewer. But I've stuck with it because I want the content and they do seem to be improving their responsiveness. At the moment, I am somewhat satisfied, but that's not always been the case.
      • Other ways to get access:
        • Some larger libraries now have subscriptions; if you are not a member of that library, you will have to use it in that library.
        • A subscription to $Archives.com$ includes NewspaperArchive.com as well as other databases but it seems to offer only the flash viewer for the newspapers I find that unusable. I don't think it offers the full database, either.
  • $NewsLibrary$ mostly late 20th, early 21st c. articles and obituaries. You can search for free. Results are given with about a paragraph of text. If you want the whole article, you can click a "purchase" button to obtain it.
  • Ancestry.com has a $ subscription that includes searchable scanned images of historical newspapers $ .
    • Find what newspapers are available in Ancestry.com's Historical Newspaper Collection (Scroll down, then click the state you are researching). Your ability to effectively search this collection is very limited.
      • NOTE: AncestryLibraryEdition, which is available in many public libraries, does not include the historical newspaper collection.
    • Ancestry is now offering a separate newspaper subscription at a site called Newspapers.com, but it appears to me that it is from NewspaperArchive (see above) and not a complete version of NewspaperArchive. My advice is to subscribe to the full set at NewspaperArchive.com.
  • $Accessible Archives$ includes some early American newspapers in its databases. Before you subscribe, check and see if you can get access through your local public or university libarary.
  • Paper of Record includes more historical newspapers, as well as newspapers from other countries. Most of the newspapers here are Canadian and foreign. There doesn't appear to be a search engine that searches all or several at once; first you must select the newspaper of interest.

Identifying, Locating and Using Newspapers not on the Web

What was published? *** Who owns copies (usually on microfilm) *** Is there an index?

First you wantto learn what was published for the area and time period you are researching.

Check for newspapers in the town and nearby towns where your ancestor lived, but also in the county seat (where legal notices would have been published), nearby communities and areas where the family used to live.

  • The Library of Congress site "Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers " includes a directory of newspapers that have been located in libraries across the nation.
    • Here are a few helpful videos to help you learn to use it:
    • Here is my long list of instructions that I wrote before I found these videos, in cas you prefer that to a video.
      How to find what newspapers were published for an area in a given time period on Chronicling America's directory of newspapers.
      • Be sure you are in the directory portion,; see link above. The directory is the PINK TAB, on the right hand side of the table. The list of newspapers digitzed is a very small percentage of what has been published. Once you have identified a newspaper published in the place and time frame of interest, if it hasn't been digitized, you can ask a librarian to get a microfilm copy on interlibrary loan.
      • First, select the state, county OR city and dates of interest.
      • Here is how I search to see all the newspapers published in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Notice I am searching the DIRECTORY of newspapers published, not the digitial images.
        • Here is the results list;A few things to note:
          • There are 28 results, but the dropdown limits those showing on the first page to 20. Be sure you go to page 2 -- or change the dropdown to 50.
          • The default drop down for order in which the list is presented is "Relevance". It might be more convenient to sort by date or title.
          • Each title is a clickable link. Open it to get more information about that tite.
            • Here is the bibliographic information on the Ypsilanti Republican 1838-1839.
            • The dates 1838-1839 are the dates the newspaper was published; you can't assume all, or even very many issues survived.
            • A click on the"holdings" link on the bottom of the page gives a little more specific information about what issues are still available -- but again, a range of dates doesn't mean that every issue in that range is there.
            • The holdings information may name one or more libraries that hold the title, but there may be more owning libraries.
  • At a library, you can find out what was published the old fashioned way, by using paper directories(described on separate page), however what is on this site is probably a digital version of what you will find in the paper directories.

Once you have found one or more newspaper titles that you might want to look through, it is time to find out-- Who owns a microfilm copy that I might get through interlibrary loan?

  • Take the information to your local library and ask the librarian there!
  • A little background:
    • Chronicling America is based on an earlier NEH sponsored U.S. Newspaper Program, which was a cooperative national effort among the states and the federal government to locate, catalog, and preserve on microfilm newspapers published in the United States from the eighteenth century to the present" Scroll down on the page for a summary and link to the status of the project in each of the states. Microfilm copies of newspapers are generally available to researchers anywhere in the country through inter-library loan. The American Antiquarian Society offers a handy list of links to the various state web sites that contain lists of newspapers filmed, with a brief description of how each is arranged. I sometimes like to use this site rather than the directory at Chronicling America because it takes me directly to the website of the owning libraries.
    • Once you have the title and dates you want (using the directory at Chronicling America, described above) you can check WorldCat to see which libraries own copies.
      • You can also go to your local library and the Reference Librarian will do this for you. Then you can request that the film be sent to you on interlibrary loan.
      • But if you want to do it yourself, perhaps to see if a nearby library might own the title, here is the WorldCat search screen.
    • Not every published newspaper survived, but of those that did, most have now been filmed or, more recently, will be digitized

A handy way to find newspapers published in a city during the time your family lived there is to consult the city directory for those years.

Find indexes to newspapers:

Some local libraries have maintained subject, personal name or obituary indexes to local papers for years. Others are now creating such indexes. To find these, you must often check the webpage of the library in the area of interest. Use PublicLibraries.com to find the website of the public library in a city that interests you.

Here are some Michigan examples:

NB: The fact that a library does not have an obituary or newspaper index online doesn't mean they don't have one on site. If there is no mention of one on the web page, you can e-mail a reference librarian and ask. An excellent example of a "hidden" index is the multi-title indexing that Louis Doll did of early Washtenaw County newspapers. The trouble is, it can be tricky to find these, so if you don't find anything in your searching of the catalog, ask a librarian to be sure.

Another place that might index (and hold) local newspapers is the local historical society -- these indexes are often not mentioned on the library websites. To find local historical societies, check D'adezzio.com Society Hill Directory.-- but don't assume that if there is no link the society does not have an online presence. Once you know the name of a society, Google it to see if a website is now available.

Some other indexes, available online:

  • Information Wanted: A Database of Advertisements for Irish Immigrants published in the Boston Pilot
  • Ohio Obituary Index (Hayes Library)
  • State Historical Society of Missouri Newspaper Index
    • (Google the words [statename] newspaper (or obituary) and index, e.g. Missouri newspaper index or Ohio Obituary Index to find such treasures.

Obituaries

  • Some libraries offer the electronic resource "America's Obituaries and Death Notices" -- a Newsbank database of 20th century obituaries. If your library doesn't offer it, I think it might might be the same as is offered at $ObitsArchive.com$ and includes mid to late 20th century to current obituaries. You can pay for individual obituaries or subscribe. . You can also join the Godfrey Memorial Library for $35/year and have access to this and dozens of other databases. This doesn't link to copies of the newspapers, but does include fully transcribed obituaries.
  • Ancestor Hunt has a listing of links to obituary search engines at libraries, universities and societies. (It isn't comprehensive)
  • Free Obituaries Online gives links to many sites that index and provide obituary information.
  • Obituary Daily Times serves as an index to obituaries from more recent newspapers.
  • Joe Beine's Obituary Research Guide contains links to online obituary information.
  • You may be able to find someone who will do a lookup for you. Check the U.S. GenWeb pages for the county you need or see if someone is offering to do this at Obituary Lookup Volunteers. When requesting an obituary, first establish the date of death.

 

More links

 

 

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This page was last updated April 5, 2014