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Navigating Newspaper Research

Newspapers-post

You know newspaper research is important to your family history. It can uncover everything from vital record information to the casual mention of your ancestor's daily life. So go research newspapers! But, is it really that easy? Which website should you  use? If it’s a subscription website, which one should you invest in? It’s the one question I  always get when I give presentations about newspaper research. And my answer is always, “I don’t know.”

Here’s the reason I don’t know. It's not that I don't know what websites exist with digitized newspaper collections.  I don't know which one specifically will be beneficial to your research. Yes, I could recommend a website or two based on my own  research. However, the website’s usefulness depends on the location and time period you are researching. You will want to make sure that the subscription website you choose has the newspapers for the places and time periods that you are researching.

Options for historical newspaper collections are numerous. And they are not all online (but you knew that, right?).

When we are doing newspaper research your may find that a newspaper is:

  • In a physical form, bound and archived at a library
  • Available as images on a microfilm
  • Transcribed/abstracted/indexed  and available in a book 
  • Transcribed/abstracted/ indexed on a website (for example, GenDisasters)
  • Digitized on a subscription website (genealogy or newspaper website)
  • Digitized on a free website (local library, for example)
  • Not extant (destroyed or not archived)

Finding Aids

So where should you start? Start by seeking out finding aids.

Having so many options for historical newspaper content is great but the difficulty lies in finding the newspapers and the websites that you need for your research.

A few online finding aids to assist you are:

The website Chronicling America, in addition to offering digitized newspapers, also has a US Newspaper Directory, 1690 to the Present (rectangular pink button found at the top right of the website) that allows you to search by place or title to find historical newspapers. 

Newspaper Subscription Websites

Numerous subscription based digitized newspaper websites exist including:

As you explore what various digitized newspaper websites have to offer, it’s important to remember that they are consistently adding to their offerings, so you will need to check back periodically to see if they have the newspapers you need.

As you explore the websites mentioned above, see what newspapers and dates are covered by each website. For example, on the GenealogyBank website you can, at the top toolbar, click on Browse and then search newspapers by state, title or date. 

Don't forget that larger public academic libraries have subscriptions to digitized newspaper websites that are not available to individuals. I highly recommend you look on your local university library's website and see what subscription websites they offer. Most likely they have something that can be of use to you.

Genealogy  Websites

Some genealogy websites also have digitized newspapers or newspaper abstracts including:

Now, you’ll notice FamilySearch is not on the above list. FamilySearch doesn’t have newspapers per se but they still should be searched. Check the FamilySearch Catalog  first. You can search by the Place your ancestor lived in and then the category Newspapers.

FS catalog

Notice that a Catalog Keyword search for the term Newspapers brought up more than 15,000 results.

FS Catalog Newspapers

Most of these results are abstracts which can help you easily locate a mention of an ancestor which can then lead you to the actual newspaper. Finally, use the FamilySearch Research Wiki to locate information on Newspapers for your location of interest.

FS Wiki

Free Newspaper Websites

There are also numerous free digitized newspaper websites including:

So What Should You Do?

I don’t know what’s best for you and your research but what I do know is there are many online options and becoming acquainted with them can help you make the best decision. But you must also remember that not everything is or will ever be online. So after you explore the above options, consult the library catalog for the area you are researching to inquire about collections. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, call or email. My local library has  microfilmed copies of a local newspaper however, you would never find that in their online catalog. When I asked why, I was simply told they didn’t know. So always, reach out to librarians and archivists to learn more.

Learn more about newspaper research from these webinars in the Legacy library.

 

Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.

 

Comments

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Thanks, Gena for the mention of The Ancestor Hunt. I appreciate it. One minor addition. It should say
"links to free ...."

Thanks again

UK users should remember that most UK libraries have access to some newspaper archive using their online service and also to the subscriptions in the library - all free.

In Scotland, the National Library of Library gives access to several newspaper archives if register with them - one unusual one being The Times of India.

As noted the Australian newspaper archive is free to use but also so is the New Zealand one. There is one in Singapore and I think I was sent a link to a South African one.

I have a subscription to the British Newspaper Archive and use it just about every day, often many times. I often search there before trying Google. If only they could improve the search system!

As soon as I started reading this post, I knew you wrote it. You ALWAYS give the best information in the most understandable format. I hope you will do another week in Salt Lake, preferably soon as I'm getting old(er).
Jan Dean
New Orleans

Kia ora Gena,
Thank you so much for the great appraisal on how to locate the historic news snippets etc we can find about our ancestors online. Yes it does so much matter where our ancestors made their homes and their emigration patterns over the years that determines where we look for the often intimate stories that gives our family history research real richness.
I have predominately British heritage and have found the newspapers at findmypast a really important resource, having found snippets going back to the early 19th century.

Two free resources I have found invaluable.

https://fibis.org - Transcriptions from Indian newspapers and records during the British Raj.

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz - A great resource from NZ historical documents and newspapers, often with images, going back the start of documentation.

As I am starting to find cousins who moved to US and Canada I really do appreciate your post and the options I have to find further stories from their lives.
Regards,
Colin Hildreth

I found this very helpful. Thank you for putting this together.

Hi. I have missed something along the way and came to a dead-end. I have not made much use of FamilySearch and perhaps that is the problem. When you say, "Now, you’ll notice FamilySearch is not on the above list. FamilySearch doesn’t have newspapers per se but they still should be searched. Check the FamilySearch Catalog first. You can search by the Place your ancestor lived in and then the category Newspapers." a thought I was going to be able to search newspapers or at least indexes. In clicking on the link "FamilySearch Catalog" I can indeed put in a place name and then see a list of newspapers (categories) associated with that place, but what then? I was not able to see how to search for my ancestor's name in the newspapers. Perhaps you could elaborate. Thank you.

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