United States Newspapers

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Photograph of William Lerch, 7 year old news-boy who sells for his brother. - NARA - 306625

Newspapers Online[edit | edit source]

Since digitizing and storing thousands of images of newspaper pages on the Web is expensive, free online collections of digitized historical newspapers are rare. However, modern-day newspapers are increasingly found for free online. Free access to "historical" databases can often be found at local libraries.

Historical Newspapers[edit | edit source]

Current Newspapers[edit | edit source]

  • RootsWeb Obituary Daily Times (free) has a searchable database of over 14 million modern-day obituaries extracted by volunteers. Most are from 2000 or later, but some date back to the 1980s. 
  • ABYZ Newslinks (free) has a directory of links to newspapers online organized by state and city.
  • OnlineNewspapers.com (free) links to United States newspapers online.
  • MyHeritage.com has an extensive collection of online newspapers.
  • World-Newspapers.com - list of newspapers from all over the world.

Why use newspapers?[edit | edit source]

Newspapers may focus on a small community or the world, a nation, or a state. They may serve a general audience or a particular ethnic, religious, racial, or political group.

Newspapers report family information within notices of births, marriages, and deaths (obituaries), and local news.

  • Newspapers usually began before government birth, marriage, and death records, often published soon after the initial settlement of a locality.
  • Newspapers may serve as a substitute for civil records that were destroyed.
  • Unlike most government records, newspaper articles are not limited to a form. Thus, newspapers may contain details not found in more structured records.
  • Newspapers can report marriages, deaths or accomplishments of people who no longer live in the area but who still have friends or family there.
  • Newspapers may report events in the life of local inhabitants even when these events occurred elsewhere.
    • Birth announcements may contain the infant's name, birth date, and parents' names, as well as the religion of the family.
    • Wedding announcements may contain the wedding date and place; the names of the bride, groom, bride's parents, and groom's parents; and the religion of the family.
    • Death notices and obituaries may contain the name and place of residence of close family and friends of the decedent, as well as the decedent's death date and place, birth date and place, and biographical information, such as occupation, military service, religion, schools attended, parents' names, places of residence over time, and place of origin.
    • News stories, legal notices, local personal columns and advertisements may contain nearly any information imaginable, including political or criminal activity, legal and domestic disputes, real estate transactions, business information, social contacts, military service, missing persons (including runaway slaves), or information about local disasters, epidemics, or other community milestones which affected the local population. Early local columns are more like local gossip but contain rich family information.

How to Successfully Search for Newspapers[edit | edit source]

There are 13 online lessons given at The Ancestor Hunt Blog to help you find and search for your ancestors in newspapers:

More tips

  • You may find it helpful to place a notice in a local newspaper in order to contact others who may have information about your family.
  • Search all newspapers for your ancestor's area, particularly those focusing on your ancestor's ethnicity. Ethnic papers "care" about ancestors that mainstream papers ignore.[1]
  • Don't ignore an ethnic newspaper that was published far from your ancestor, even hundreds of miles away. These papers often have a widely-circulated readership, so they tend to focus on a much wider area. For example, articles about ancestors from Illinois, Kansas, and Nebraska can be found in an ethnic newspaper published in Iowa.[2]
  • To research historical newspapers and be successful, it helps to be educated about the characteristics of these important genealogy resources; where to find them, and how to best search for the articles that you are seeking.These Lessons will go a long way to improving your research skills:

Time period[edit | edit source]

Newspaper-like publications in the United States began shortly after the arrival of the first colonists in the 1600s, but the first continuously published newspaper in British North America is considered to be the Boston News-Letter, first published on April 24, 1704.[3]

Milestone in newspaper content: the mid-1800s[edit | edit source]

Early American newspapers were generally only a few pages and focused on international rather than local events. However, the combination of the telegraph, the railroad, the power printing press, and public hunger for news during the Civil War changed American newspapers permanently during the mid-1800s. They increased the news gathering, production, and distribution capacity of big-city papers such that these papers took over the reporting of international, national, and state news. This changed the focus of small-town papers to local events and ordinary people.[4]

Identifying and finding newspapers in an area[edit | edit source]

Internet[edit | edit source]

  • 1690-present: The Library of Congress website Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers contains information about America's newspapers from 1690 to the present, including the locality each paper covered, its title, publication years, and current locations in various repositories. The database is searchable by place or title. After using this source to identify newspapers in your ancestor's locality, we recommend you use both this site's listing of repositories as well as OCLC/WorldCat to find repositories in your area that have the newspapers in question. Chronicling America also contains a growing collection of digitized newspapers published between 1836 and 1922, and is planned to become a comprehensive source for digitized U.S. newspapers from that time period.
  • 1700-present: The United States Newspaper Program was a cooperative national effort among the states and the federal government to locate, catalog, and preserve on microfilm newspapers published in the United States from the eighteenth century to the present. Funding was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Technical assistance was furnished by the Library of Congress. The program inventoried holdings in public libraries, county courthouses, newspaper offices, historical museums, college and university libraries, archives, and historical societies. Newspapers were entered into OCLC/WorldCat

On-site library collections[edit | edit source]

University libraries, state libraries, state archives, and historical and genealogical society libraries generally have strong newspaper collections for a given state. Local libraries often have a good collection for the immediate area.

How to Obtain United States newspapers[edit | edit source]

Listed below are resources for finding newspapers generally in the United States. However, many excellent statewide resources exist for finding newspapers of a state or county.

In addition to this page, please see the state newspaper pages and the county pages on this wiki.

Newspapers in the States[edit | edit source]

Territories and Federal Districts[edit | edit source]

Your local library and interlibrary loan[edit | edit source]

Although your local library may not have a newspaper collection for the place where your ancestor lived, you may still access newspapers from distant libraries there. Many historical newspapers have been microfilmed. Local libraries often have a service called Interlibrary loan by which they can order microfilm copies of old newspapers from other libraries for a reasonable fee usually paid by the patron. Telephone your local librarian to learn which newspapers covered your ancestor's area and time period. Also ask which libraries in your area offer interlibrary loan services and what the fees are.

Books[edit | edit source]

Although Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers is the most current and accessible finding aid for American newspapers, the following printed sources can also be helpful:

  • 1690-1983: Newspapers in Microform: United States, 1948-1983. Two Volumes. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1984. (FHL book 011.35 N479 1984; film 1145942.) This is a geographically-arranged list of newspapers on microform and the repositories where the microforms are available. Most of these can be borrowed through interlibrary loan. This book is available online at the Library of Congress at: http://www.loc.gov/rr/news/news_research_tools/newspapersinmf.html.
  • 1690-1985: United States Newspaper Program National Union List, Fourth Edition. Dublin, Ohio: Online Computer Library Center, 1993. (FHL fiche 6332710-14 [set of 70].) Many states are collecting and microfilming the newspapers published in their state. This list is an inventory of newspapers that had been collected by the Library of Congress and 20 states as of 1985. An accompanying booklet by the same title contains instructions and the key to repository codes. (FHL book 973 B32u 1989.)
  • 1690-1820: Brigham, Clarence Saunders. History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820. Two Volumes. Worcester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society, 1975. (FHL book 973 A3bc.) This lists the locations of collections of newspapers published from 1690 to 1820. Most of these newspapers are available at the American Antiquarian Society, 185 Salisbury Street, Worcester, MA 01609-1634.
  • 1821-1936: Gregory, Winifred. American Newspapers, 1821-1936. 1937 Reprint, New York, New York: H. W. Wilson, 1967. (FHL Ref Q book 970 B33a 1967; film 483713.) This lists newspapers published from 1821 to 1936, including those that are no longer published. It identifies where copies of the newspapers were located in 1936.
  • 1886: American Newspaper Directory - a directory of US newspapers in publication in 1886.
  • 1869-1920: Geo. P. Rowell & Co’s. American Newspaper Directory (New York, New York: Geo. P. Rowell & Co., 1869-1877); N. W. Ayer and Son’s American Newspaper Annual (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: N.W. Ayer and Son's, 1880 – 1920): Images of these annual lists of newspapers and periodicals for all the towns and cities in the US and Canada are available online at the Library of Congress. These books also include information on population, location in relation to a larger city, railroad line, local industries and more.
  • 1969-present: Gale Directory of Publications: An Annual Guide to Newspapers, Magazines, Journals, and Related Publications. (formerly Ayer Directory of Publications). Annual. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1969-. (FHL book 970 B34a 1987.) This lists currently published newspapers. Most newspaper publishers will not search their files for you but some will make a copy of an article if you can provide a specific date and event.

U.S. newspapers at the Family History Library[edit | edit source]

To locate newspapers in the Family History Library's collection which pertain to a large part of Maryland, click here. The Family History Library is not actively collecting newspapers of the United States.[5]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Neil, Michael John. "Ethnic Newspapers." Internet article at http://learn.ancestry.com/LearnMore/Article.aspx?id=11282 Orem, Utah: Ancestry.com, 2 June 2006.
  2. Neil, Michael John. "Ethnic Newspapers." Internet article at http://learn.ancestry.com/LearnMore/Article.aspx?id=11282 Orem, Utah: Ancestry.com, 2 June 2006.
  3. Wikipedia:The Boston News-Letter
  4. Hansen, James L. "Newspapers." The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Rev. Ed. Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, Eds. Salt Lake City: Ancestry Inc., 1997. 413, 414.
  5. Telephone interview of Ken Nelson by Michael Ritchey. Salt Lake City, 8 December 2008. Ken is a member of the Family History Library's Collection Management team. He said that although the library would not turn down a free microfilm of a U.S. newspaper, newspaper collections are not currently part of the acquisition profile for U.S. places, and haven't been for some years.