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Researching Newspapers

Newspapers chronicled our ancestor's lives, their friends and neighbors and their community. Researching newspapers can provide us with much more information than a simple obituary.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Gena Philibert-Ortega
Word Count: 747 (approx.)
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I think newspaper research is probably the one type of research least liked by researchers. For one reason, newspapers are rarely indexed, so researching them can mean spending hours cranking the microfilm machine as you look page by page. While some newspaper research can be easier, like finding obituaries, anniversary or marriage articles when you know an exact date, so much more can be found in the newspaper but it requires hours of research time.

Newspapers chronicled our ancestor's lives, their neighbors and their community. Our ancestor may be mentioned in articles ranging from standard genealogical fare like birth, death and marriage announcements to writing letters to the editor or a letter home from war.

Different types of newspapers exist beside the city paper that we are more familiar with. There are county, religious, occupational, ethnic, military, and special interest newspapers. When seeking out newspapers to research make sure you do a thorough inventory of what newspapers existed at the time your ancestor lived.

Newspapers offer genealogists a wealth of information. For a complete list of what can be found in a newspaper that will help a genealogist, see the chapter entitled "Research in Newspapers" in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy, (ISBN# 9781593312770). The following is just a small list of information that can be found in newspapers:

Obituary

Anniversary Notices

Marriages

Births

Legal Notices

Probate Notices

Funeral Notices

Memorials

Trial Coverage

Advertisements

Passenger Lists

Runaway Slave Announcements

Marriage License List

Society Page Articles

Letter to the Editors

Police/Fire Calls for Help

One of the things I point out to other researchers is that even if you consider an event that your ancestor experienced, namely death, there can be many different types of articles or notices in a newspaper that document this event, besides an obituary. Examples include a death notice, funeral notice, probate notice, family thank you, and memorial. In addition, if the person died from an accident or a murder, there will be articles detailing the death and in the case of a murder there should be subsequent articles detailing the arrest and trial of the accused and the outcome of that trial.

In general, you can find newspaper collections at public libraries, state archives, state libraries, and historical societies. A list of state archives and historical societies with links can be found through the Ohio Historical Society at http://www.ohiohistory.org/links/arch_hs.html. In at least one case, a state historical society has newspapers for places outside of its own state. I recommend that researchers check out the Kansas State Historical Society at Kansas State Historical Society: Guide to Newspapers on Microfilm and search through their list of available newspapers.

Often the entities described above will offer microfilmed copies of newspapers through interlibrary loan. Through the interlibrary loan program, you request the item from your local library and pay a small fee that covers the shipping charge; they then request the item and notify you when it has arrived. You can then view the microfilm at the library and make whatever copies you need. "Clipping files," that include clippings of articles featuring community members, can be found through libraries, archives, genealogical and historical societies. The Family History Library, www.familysearch.org, includes books that are indexes of various records from newspapers. By conducting a catalog subject search for the word "newspaper" or by conducting a place search and looking for the category newspapers, you will be able to see what the Library has in the way of newspapers for your ancestral home.

Many of the larger online genealogical databases have newspaper collections you can search. Each site differs in what it offers, so it's best to check each one for newspapers that can be of assistance to you. These providers include Godfrey Memorial Library (Godfrey Memorial Library); Ancestry (www.ancestry.com); World Vital Records (World Vital Records); and Genealogy Bank (http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/keyword.html). While all of these are subscription sites, you can look at their indexes and conduct a name search for free; you just won't be able to look at relevant hits. Remember, that in the case of Godfrey Memorial Library, World Vital Records and Genealogy Bank, these are available through the Family History Centers. However, the subscription available through the Family History Center may not include all resources available on the site. In the case of Ancestry, most regional Family History Centers (larger Family History Centers), have a subscription.

Many states have newspaper projects as part of the U.S. Newspaper Project. This project works towards digitizing historic newspapers. Some statewide examples include California State Newspaper Project http://cnp.ucr.edu/ ,

Utah Digital Archives http://www.lib.utah.edu/digital/unews/ and the Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection http://www.coloradohistoricnewspapers.org/Archive/skins/chnc02_region2/welcome.asp?QS=skin=chnc02_region2 .For a complete list of state projects, see the U.S. Newspaper Project web site at http://www.neh.gov/projects/usnp.html.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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