Newspaper archives, both online and in libraries and history centers, provide a unique insight into the lives of your ancestors. Through newspaper announcements, features, and obituaries, you can learn about the details of your family members' lives, adding wonderful dimension to the names and dates you may already have in your family tree.
Searching Newspaper Archives Online
The Internet makes it possible for you to access some archives easily. There are a number of free and paid resources out there, and one of them may meet your needs perfectly.
One of the best sites for finding obscure old newspaper articles about your ancestors is GenealogyBank.com. This site, which has subscription packages ranging from six dollars per month to about $20 per month, has hundreds of historical newspapers. If you're a member, all you have to do is enter your ancestor's name and select a state. You can narrow your results with a date range and keywords. You'll find everything from social notices of your ancestors' visits to detailed news stories about important events in which they played a role.
Library of Congress Chronicling America Project
Chronicling America is a project by the United States Library of Congress that collects historical newspaper archives from all over the country. Access to these records is free. Although the collection is growing all the time, it does not include all states. Even for the states it does include, there are only a few cities' newspapers in the collection. This is a good place to check first, before you subscribe to a paid service. To search, you can select the state, add a date range anytime between 1836 and 1922, and type in a name or search term.
Historical Newspapers and Indexes on the Internet
Historical Newspapers and Indexes on the Internet is a helpful list of links to state historical societies and other organizations with free searchable archives online. The list doesn't include every state, but it's wise to check if your ancestor's state is on the list. That way, you can look at the state archives for free before subscribing to a more comprehensive service. Simply find for your state and click on the link provided for that state's archives.
Internet Public Library
Another way to search old newspapers online is to visit the newspaper's site directly and access any archives they provide to the public. To find out which newspapers might apply to your search, visit the free site of the Internet Public Library (IPL). There, you can click on the appropriate state, narrow the results by city, and then see a listing of all newspapers for that area. Each newspaper has a link to its site, where you can find archives of varying quality. Not every city is represented on the IPL site, and the only archives you can access are for newspapers that are still in print.
Ancestry.com is a popular subscription genealogy service that costs about $20 per month for a domestic membership. They have an extensive collection of newspaper records, many from smaller, rural areas. If you're already a member, it's a good place to start. If you're not, you can do a free two-week trial membership. To search, enter as much information as you can about your ancestor, including name, dates of important events, and places lived.
How to Search Newspaper Archives Offline
Although there are some newspaper archives online, the records available digitally represent only a fraction of those that are out there. If you really want to find as many newspaper articles as you can about your family members, it's best to search offline. This is especially true if you're looking for out-of-print papers or small rural papers.
You can conduct your search in person at the library or historical society in the town where your ancestor lived, or you can work through a representative of that organization. The process is fairly simple, although it can be time-consuming.
Set Your Goals
Before you delve into a mountain of microfilm, it's a good idea to know what you want to find. Start by making a list of two or three questions you want answered. For example, you may want to know the name of a person's parents, or you might want to find out who attended your grandparents' wedding. It's best if you have a vague idea of the dates for the information you want to find.
Narrow Down the Dates
Because most newspaper archives are still in analog form, you can't easily search them by your ancestor's name. This means you need to have a fairly good idea of the date of the event you are researching. This could be a birth, death, marriage, job change, or other important happening. The more exact you can be with the date, the less time you'll have to spend searching.
Conduct Your Search
If you're working with a representative of the library or historical society, you can give that person the dates and names you need and pay the fee they require. Typically, this fee is in the range of $20 to $40 per record, but it can vary by the location. Sometimes, helpful volunteers will do your research for only the cost of copying and postage.
If you're doing the search yourself, you'll only need to pay a small copying fee. Start two weeks before the event and continue to about a month afterward. This time window covers most stories that were written about specific happenings, and it helps minimize the amount of time you need to sit in front of the microfilm reader. Carefully advance the film through each paper, paying special attention to the section that matters to you. This could be the social pages, the obituaries, or even the front page. When you find what you need, print the record.
Adding Dimension to Your Family Tree
Don't give up if you don't find what you need right away. The online newspaper archives are growing all the time, so the process will get easier. In addition, you'll learn more about the events and important dates in your family as you continue your research, allowing you to find additional newspaper articles that are of interest to you. Although the search can be challenging, the reward of adding extra dimension to your family tree is well worth the time and effort.
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