Recently I wrote an article called Navigating Newspaper Research and one of our readers asked a really good question that needs to be explored.
James Stevenson wrote:
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." I 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.
Sure! I can definitely elaborate on using FamilySearch for newspaper research. Let’s take a look at what it can and cannot provide you in terms of your research.
First, it’s important to remember that FamilySearch has databases, digitized items, and catalog entries. The “newspaper records” on FamilySearch are likely going to be in the form of the latter two, digitized items and catalog entries. The Catalog entries will list sources found in books or on microforms (microfilm or microfiche). So what that means is that if it’s found in a catalog entry, it will not be automatically searchable or browseable. You will need to either go to the Family History Library or one of its branches (if that’s where the item is located) to view it. You could also ask or hire someone else to view it for you. The FamilySearch Catalog also provides the option to find items in other libraries using WorldCat (more on that below).
Second, FamilySearch does not have actual newspapers. What they do have are books of indexes and abstracts. Prior to the days of digitized newspaper websites, this type of resource was invaluable to learning that an ancestor’s vital record information was printed in a newspaper. While indexes are not the best source because of the errors they can contain, they can be valuable finding aids.
So let’s take a look at some examples. Let’s do a FamilySearch Catalog search for the state of North Carolina. When we do a Catalog search this is what we see in terms of the subject Newspapers.
Notice that the subject categories include:
- Newspapers - Bibliography
- Newspapers - Indexes
- Newspapers – Sources
But , also notice that there is also a category for Obituaries and Obituaries- indexes that also contain items from newspapers. So it’s important to go beyond just the Newspaper category.
Now, if I click on Newspapers, it expands to show me these results.
As I look through the list I need to evaluate what looks like it might be helpful to my research. Clicking on any entry will help with that decision should the title be too generic. For the sake of our example, let’s go ahead and click on “Abstracts of births, deaths, marriages and other items of interest from Mount Airy, North Carolina newspapers."
In this case, this is available as a book at the Library and it is not available online. So I need to figure out a way to access it.
I can check WorldCat to see if the book is available closer to where I live in Southern California. All I need to do is click on the WorldCat link (see my red arrow above). I will be redirected to the WorldCat website and a card catalog view of the book I’m looking at. If I enter my zip code the website will reveal what libraries nearest me have that item. In this case, I‘m in luck since it is at a FamilySearch Library branch about 40 miles from where I live. I can take a trip out there to look at the book and see if it has the information I need.
Now, once I do that, it’s important to remember that this book was filled with abstracts, not the original newspaper articles. So I need to note the information I find and then see if I can track down the newspaper that originally published that article. Why? Because abstracts can be filled with errors.
In some cases, the Family History Library copy is the only one available. If so, you may want to consider hiring a researcher to do a look-up, ask a friend who is going to Salt Lake for a favor, or plan your own trip.
You may get lucky and find that the item you need is digitized as in this example from North Carolina.
I can click on the word “here” in the red sentence above and see the item I want. Please remember that in order to see digitized items you must be signed into your free FamilySearch account.
So FamilySearch either can provide you a way to find an ancestor in a resource via digitized books or records or they will have items in the Library, Family History Centers, or FamilySearch Libraries that you can research in person.
Not everything is online, but FamilySearch allows you to identify what you need for your research and then it's up to you to plan your next steps to acquiring it.
Thanks for the question James!