And while some governmental offices might have their records online and available digitally, my own experience has been that they are NOT generally available from outside the walls of that office - such as property records, wills, etc. Even cemeteries may have computerized records, but they are all over the map (no pun intended) as far as searchability and availability.
One thing that I have noticed recently is that many death notices contain a mini-life story of the deceased. Sometimes there is a photo – usually when they were young and handsome/pretty and not how they looked at the time of their passing at age 93! But newspapers can provide a lot of interesting material, whether it is obits, marriage notices, birth announcements, and so on. Of course, the information contained in them is only as good as what was supplied to the paper. Some notices just say survived by two daughters and a son (no names, no addresses); and if there are any grandchildren, possibly not their names either. Others seem to give quite a lot of data that while not completely reliable, can give a good amount of information on where to continue a search.
For example, recently a patron had a family that was located here for several generations. When one of them died, there was mentioned a brother in Cleveland, Ohio. Well, at least one would know where to look for further information. But that family has subsequently dispersed all over the USA, so newspapers can give a summary of who's living where, and when.
There are many sites which offer access to newspapers. These are not the only ones by any means, just some that I have come upon recently, and which illustrate the concept. Also, be advised that while some papers show up in Google searches, their current web site may charge for access to obits, and that's when the Google cache feature may let you see the content of the original without having to pay.
We did have some of these databases at the library, but had to give them up when the library's budget was severely cut the past couple of years. Hint: do not try Smith as a sample search on any of these. You will get too many hits!
Ones which patrons have recently used are the index to the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/nytarchive.html. This has the entire run of the New York Times from 1851-PRESENT. The older archives have from 1851 to 1980, and the later one from 1981 to the present. It contains over 13 million articles in all.
The complete backfile of The New York Times contains over 13 million articles in all. The web site states that access to articles in the public domain (1851-1922) are free. And there is a modest charge for copies after that date.
Then there are others - some of these allow printing and saving, others do not.
Obituary Central is an obituary database for finding obituaries and performing cemetery searches. The web page contains instructions on how to use it.
Commercial sites such as:
GenealogyBank has historical newspapers from 1690 to 2007; historical books 1801-1900; historical documents 1789-1984; newspaper obituaries from 1977-to date; and the Social Security death index (which can be a bit of a red herring- I know of a man who was born in Western New York, moved to California with his father as a child, married and lived in Colorado most of his adult life – and came back to New York only 2 months before his death. So the indication of where he lived in the SSDI is not entirely informative.)
Another is Newspaperarchive.com claims to have more than 200 years of family history, small-town events, world news and more.
There is also Footnote.com which contains many useful items, but which was acquired by Ancestry.com in late 2010. You can see the newspapers at: http://go.fold3.com/newspapers/. A blog commentary reads, (the blogger wrote): "I don't want to see it lose its usefulness, identity and continued growth in the genealogy market the way Genealogy.com did after it was acquired by Ancestry.com many years ago. On the other hand, the experience with genealogy marketing, advertising and branding that Ancestry.com brings to the table may just be what Footnote.com
And speaking of a major player in the field, Ancestry.com – it has newspapers indexed and one can use the search function to narrow down your person(s) of interest and see the actual newspaper entry.
There is also WorldVitalRecords.com, which has a search screen at http://www.worldvitalrecords.com/contentsearch.aspx?rt=news and which can return results numbering from several hundred to several million.
If you cannot or do not want to pay a fee for access, it might be possible borrow the microfilm from a library, or even visit one if it's close to you. There are pricy solutions (at least to the providing library), some of the ones mentioned above or others which individual can subscribe to. But also free is good, viz:
There are free web sites which are done by various community groups and library council or even individuals.
FultonHistory.com – started by focusing on the area around Fulton, New York (Northwest of Syracuse). Now there are over 13 million pages digitized and searchable, containing papers from Buffalo all the way to New York City. The man who runs this continually expands it and has done digitizing for libraries at no fee to them (We like!)
Building on that there is another web site containing newspapers from the Adirondack section of New York: Northern New York Historical Newspapers. The online collection currently consists of more than 1,853,000 pages from forty-six newspapers.
On one website, http://xooxleanswers.com/newspaperarchives4.aspx, there are excellent free historical resources for vintage newspaper articles in the United States. They cover a broad swath of U.S. history -- from the 18th to the 21st century --and cover state, city, town, county, and regional newspapers. Headlines, articles, display ads, classifieds . . . they're all there for the taking.
You may also check Cyndi's List Newspapers. The ever-resourceful Ms. Howells has 843 links as of this writing.
But did you also know that there are oodles of free archives, representing two and half centuries of newspaper publishing in the United States: http://freenewspaperarchives.us/default.aspx. These are scattered across the web, and not always easy to find. That's what this site is all about . . . making it easy to access free newspaper archives.
I would be remiss if the following site was not mentioned - http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov, which can give more information on other digital projects in process on a national level. The web site says that it allows you to search and view newspaper pages from 1860-1922 and find information about American newspapers published between 1690-present.
And parting words of wisdom – when you Google or otherwise search for online newspaper, make sure that you indicate that you are looking for an archive of older papers, not just the current year or so. Our local paper in this town only had obits online going back a couple of years and even those you have to pay for. The same paper is indexed back to the mid 1950s here at the library, and it's also online at [[http://www.fultonhistory.com|http://www.fultonhistory.com. Be sure to ask your local librarian or genealogical society about any that they know of; check the GenWeb pages for the county that you are;researching, ask on Rootsweb message boards, and otherwise tap the collective mind.