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Genealogy Research

How To Find and Use Historical Newspapers in Your Genealogy Research

Learn how to find and use historical newspapers in your genealogy research. Find clues and details to fill in the gaps of an ancestor’s life.

I avoided including old newspapers in my genealogy research for long time. I was rather intimidated by them!

Using old newspapers in our research in crucial, especially when searching for those brick wall ancestors.

But let’s face it…..finding and reading those old newspapers can be tedious. [I know that’s what you’re thinking, because I thought it, too!]

By the end of this post, I hope I’ve changed your mind.  ☺

Why We Procrastinate Using Historical Newspapers In Our Research

Historical newspapers are hard to find. Yes, finding old newspapers can be tough since no one place exists that houses all of them. Researchers must look at multiple databases – some free and some subscription-based.

How do we know which subscription databases have what we need?

Many newspapers are not digitized.  Once a researcher locates the offline needed newspapers, getting access to the needed editions has to be arranged. 

Pro Genealogy Tip: Talk to the local librarian about what local newspapers existed for the time period you are researching.

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Historical newspapers can be hard to read! Often text heavy with small print, newspapers can be just plain difficult to just read. 👓 Add extra difficulty points if those newspapers are on microfilm!

So, yes, research in the historical newspapers is tough, but we can conquer that!

Where To Locate Historical Newspapers

Options for locating historical newspapers both online and offline are more numerous than you might think.

Free Online Newspaper Databases

Chronicling America is perhaps the most well-known online free site for researching old newspapers.  Digitized newspapers range from 1777 – 1963. Do not overlook the US Newspaper Directory, 1690-present. This database holds over 156,000 titles of published newspapers and locating information. Chronicling America should be your first stop in your historical newspaper research.

Chronicling America historical newspapers

FamilySearch is always a good resource all things genealogy! 

Free Historic U.S. Newspapers by State from Purdue University has a great list for links to digital newspapers for all 50 states. This is definitely a site to bookmark.

Elephind has newspapers from around the world, and is another I have bookmarked.

The Google News Archive is another free resource to include in your newspaper research.  Both U. S. and international newspapers as well as ethnic and religious-focused newspapers. Below is an example of The Irish Canadian found on the Google News Archive. This is an excellent example of an ethnic group’s newspaper dating back into the 1860’s. 

Google newspaper archive example
Example from Google News Archive

The International Coalition on Newspapers (ICON) has both  international and United States  listings for newspaper digitization projects. Listings are for both paid and free databases.

Old Fulton New York Post Cards has a large collection of digital newspapers from New York, other states, and Canada, too.

Researching U. K. ancestors? Include the British Newspaper Archive in your search. Check back for updates!  New pages are being added.

Canadian ancestor research? Bookmark the Bowling Green State University’s Historical Canadian Newspapers Online: Home for links to free online Canadian newspapers. 

Still need to find newspapers for your genealogy research?

Try a Google search. Include the location you are interested in researching and include terms like “old newspapers” and “historical newspapers”. Alternately include a specific date or date range.

Here is an example:

 Free Online  North Carolina Historical Newspapers

[Terms like “free” or “online”] + [Location] + [“historical newspapers]

Or try a more specific  search with a date or date range:

North Carolina Historical Newspapers  1800 – 1850

[Location] + [“historical newspapers] + [Date/Date range]

Subscription Based Newspaper Resources

Newspapers can also be found on the traditional genealogy websites and newspaper specific sites:

Searching for Offline Historical Newspapers

You may not find the needed newspapers for your research online. Don’t despair! You will need to shift your search to offline resources.

The regional or local library in the area where your ancestors lived is an excellent source for small newspapers. Original newspapers may be available or you may find you must read them on microfilm. [Does anyone else get motion sick doing this? Okay, that might be too much information about me.]

If you are not local or you are unable to travel to the area where your ancestors lived, reach out to the reference librarian to find out what is available and how you can access the material. The librarian may be able to do smaller searches for you. I’ve been able to get microfilmed newspapers through inter-library loan, too.

Librarian sitting at desk with old style computer on desk.

Consider seeking out religious newspapers for your genealogy research. Often not online, you can check with the local church to see if they have copies in the church library. Additionally, check with the regional office or the denomination’s archives.

Do not overlook checking the vertical files while at the library. Often newspaper clippings on a variety of topics including family history are found in these files. It’s a bit like a treasure hunt!

Search Tips for Historical Newspapers

Once you find the needed newspaper, try using these tips in your search.

Old fashioned clock with roman numerals reading 10:20
  • Take your time! Don’t rush. Once you find your ancestor’s information, read other articles to a sense of what was happening in the community.
  • Search using alternate name spellings including initials. 
  • Use wildcard searches.
  • Search local AND regional newspapers.
  • Widen your time period. Some newspapers were only published once a week or even less frequently. Expand your time frame if needed.

Researching your ancestors in the newspapers has the potential to provide vital information on their lives. If you are researching female ancestors, you definitely want to include newspapers in your research! 

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