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)
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 Ancestor Hunt (links to US and Canadian digitized newspapers)
- Online Historical Newspapers (links to Australia, Canada, Ireland, Mexico, and US digitized newspapers)
- Wikipedia List of Online Newspaper Archives (worldwide)
- CanGenealogy Historic Newspapers (Canada)
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:
- GenealogyBank (US Online but includes foreign language newspapers published in US)
- Newspapers.com (US, Canada, England, Australia, Scotland, and Ireland)
- British Newspaper Archive
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.
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.
Notice that a Catalog Keyword search for the term Newspapers brought up more than 15,000 results.
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.
Free Newspaper Websites
There are also numerous free digitized newspaper websites including:
- Library of Congress’ Chronicling America
- Google News Archive
- US state digitization projects
- Trove - from the National Library of Australia
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.