Use These 12 Special Keywords to Improve Your Newspaper Research Results

When entering our search criteria in the search box on an online historical newspaper site, we often focus primarily on the name of the target ancestor or family.  We might also search for a location or an address. or combine these with a name.

My guess is that well over 90% of online newspaper searches employ the above techniques.

I offer you some additional ways to hone in on target ancestor articles, and this is to use keywords in your search criteria. Here are some examples, that if used will get you more and better results:

If you are searching for obituaries,

  • Add the keyword “Beloved” or
  • “Beloved wife” or,
  • “Beloved husband” etc. The word “beloved” is used frequently in obituaries. So entering these keywords plus the surname may focus in on obituaries.
  • Similar to “beloved” try the word “dear”, as in “dear husband” or “dear sister.” This will also focus in on obituaries.
  • A third keyword used in obituaries is “loving”.  For example, “loving daughter” or  “loving husband”.

If you are searching for a birth announcement,

  • Add in the keywords “born to the wife of”  or,
  • “Born to” along with the name and that will focus in on articles about births.

Was your ancestor a business owner?  

  • Add the word “president” or “proprietor” to the name.

Did your ancestor belong to a lodge or club? Try “president” or “chairman” or “secretary” for example.

Was your ancestor a union member?

  • Try using “Union rep”, or
  • “Shop steward”

Try using the occupation in your search criteria, such as

  • “Doctor” or “electrician” or “plumber” in conjunction with the name.

​Were they in the military?

  • Try “Corporal” or “Sergeant” or Captain”, etc.

There are all kinds of ways to narrow in on your ancestors in old newspapers.  Using these keywords will definitely help. In fact, I guarantee it.

What is the Difference Between an Obituary, a Death Notice, an Obituary Index and a Death Index?


In 2018 and 2019, I expanded the resources that I have made available on The Ancestor Hunt website.

Besides free Online Historical Newspaper Links, I have added Obituary Indexes (which are found in the Obituaries tab above), and Birth, Marriage, and Death Record Links (found in the BMD Links tab above).

It occurred to me that it would be a good idea to lay down some definitions so there would be no confusion.

First is the difference between a newspaper Death Notice and a newspaper Obituary. They are often used interchangeably.

“According to the Milwaukee Public Library:”

Death Notice – a paid notice usually placed by the funeral home with information from family members.
Obituary – an article about a person written by a reporter from a variety of sources.

​Let’s look at two from a newspaper:

According to the Milwaukee Public Library definitions, the image at the top is a Death Notice, and the image at the bottom is designated as an Obituary.

I think most of us think of the image at the top as an Obituary also.

In other words, we use the terms interchangeably.  And that’s fine with me actually.

The next two definitions are a Death Index versus an Obituary Index.  In this case, we do NOT, under any circumstances, use the two terms interchangeably.

A Death Index, at a minimum, includes the name of the deceased and the ACTUAL Date of Death.

An Obituary Index on the other hand does not require an actual Date of Death, but it MUST have the name of the newspaper and at least the publication date of that newspaper, and hopefully the page number that the death notice/obituary resides on. With the publication info, you can hunt down the actual newspaper death notice or obituary.

I have seen many indexes that include the death date AND the Publication Date, so in that situation, the index can function as a Death Index AND an Obituary Index.

The tricky part and it happens often, is to see an Obituary Index and have the library or other institution designate it as a Death Index which it is not.

Let’s look at three examples:

​The first is a Death Index

So, above we have a death date but no newspaper publication info, hence it is a Death Index

The next image is an Obituary Index

So, above we have a publication date but no ACTUAL date of death info, hence it is an Obituary Index.

The danger in these types of indexes is that often there no header labels, so we won’t know if the date is a publication date or an actual death date.

Below is a combo index, which has the Death Date and the Obituary Publication name and date.​

The reason why I am pointing all of this out is so that you do not use a Publication Date as the Death Date in your own family tree documentation.

The moral of the story is that if an institution labels the index as an Obituary Index, and there is no header, you must assume that the dates entered are publication dates, not death dates.

​I hope that this helps.

Recording Your Families History – A Great Alternative to Writing

I have been having discussions for the last few months with my friend Alan Martin about recording one’s family history as an alternative or adjunct to writing it. I have been writing my ancestor’s family history through blog posts on my two family history websites for years.  I fully intend to write a book about one branch of my tree, hopefully soon.

In any case, I was intrigued by his idea and asked him to write this article below about using audio in documenting one’s family history.  Obviously it won’t work too well for our dearly departed relatives and ancestors unless we record that, but I digress.

I need to let you know that I never promote products. I have invited just a few product/service providers to write posts over the years. Also as a full disclosure I have no financial or other interest in Alan’s product Audiobiography. My only goal is to educate.

The Case for Adding Audio to Your Family History Collection

Have you ever kept a voicemail after someone had passed? Or refused to remove their phone number from your contacts? Hearing their voice makes it seem as if they are right there with you, even when they’re gone. Even the idea of hearing their voice is hard to let go. The human voice is the most intimate form of communication. It’s timeless, and cannot be faked or reproduced. Without question, hearing a story from my father in his own voice will forever mean more than hearing a story about my father after he’s gone. Audio can become the most personal and authentic part of a family history collection, and here are three reasons why it should.

​1. Audio keeps a uniquely personal connection alive for generations

Our voice is the purest window into our mind and personality. It’s how we speak, formulate, pause, backtrack, storytell, laugh, sometimes cry, and sound that reveals the most about who we are. Our voice is a direct reflection of our mind and personality at work, in flashes of time that soon pass, never to return. 

I came to a powerful realization as my wife and I watched videos of our family. I didn’t care how they looked, where they were, or what they were doing. Those things faded into the background, and I found myself fixated on their voice because that’s what felt like them. The real them. I became convinced that the truest picture of a person emerges through audio, and I began capturing my family’s voice, in audio. I knew that in 40 years, my kids would cherish hearing the most authentic version of themselves. And I believed that when I was gone, they would also find meaning in hearing some of my experiences and beliefs, in my own voice.

2. Audio is easier and more accessible at any age than writing or video

Writing is hard. Most of us aren’t great at it to begin with, and it becomes more difficult with age. Owing to grammatical weaknesses and physical effort, writing often starves of nuance, and captures only a fraction of what would otherwise be captured if the barrier were entirely lifted.  
Videos have been made easier thanks to mobile devices, but they create an “on-stage” moment that is mildly uncomfortable at best, and impossible to overcome at worst. The camera’s watchful eye makes us less likely to engage completely or authentically. 

Then there’s audio. It quietly captures the most authentic version of ourselves with a single touch of a button and nothing more. It doesn’t care what we wear or how we look. It has the magical ability to disappear in the background while the conversation continues. Neither pen nor camera can claim this powerful and natural ability. 

3. Audio is a lightweight and preservable technology

Since we capture history to pass it down from one generation to the next, thinking long term about the format of the content we collect is critical. Audio can be fifty times smaller than video, making it less expensive to store, transport, playback, and back up, forever. When you consider this benefit, which doesn’t require a trade-off in outcomes or quality, audio scores high and deserves to be a leading component of our personal and family records. 

Tools are available to capture family history in audio if we make it a point to use them. Smartphones put an audio recorder in nearly everyone’s hands. We’ve created a tool called Audiobiography which makes recording and sharing life history in audio even easier. But wherever you begin, just begin. Once a voice is gone, it can’t be replaced. Capturing it now will allow a purer form of history and remembrance to live on for generations.


Alan Martin is one of the creators of Audiobiography, an audio-enabled physical workbook that is available at https://audiobiography.com

Historical Free Caribbean Newspapers Online

For those of you who have ancestors/relatives from the Caribbean island countries, there are over 250 historical newspapers listed below that have been published over the last two hundred or so that may help you find some information and stories about them.

Listed are only those that are available online. As always, there are many more available via microfilm and in the original form via libraries and archives.

Please note that these are all free to search. Some are indexed, and some are not. You may see some duplicates – this is because the newspaper is provided on multiple online sites, so you may wish to search or browse each of the duplicates.

Anguilla

Antigua and Barbuda

Aruba

Bahamas

Barbados

Belize

Bermuda

British Virgin Islands

Cuba

Curaçao

Dominica

Dominican Republic

Grenada

Guyana

Haiti

Honduras Bay Islands

Jamaica

Martinique

Montserrat

Netherlands Antilles

Panama Canal Zone

Puerto Rico

Saint Barthelemy

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Saint Lucia

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Sint Eustatius

Suriname

Trinidad and Tobago

Turks and Caicos Islands

U.S. Virgin Islands

​Good Luck and Happy Hunting​!

A Perfect Example Why You Should Search for Photos Online

As genealogy researchers, we aspire to see what our ancestors looked like – what they wore, their surroundings, where they lived, etc. Sometimes the names of the individuals are cited in these photo archives and sometimes not.  So as another benefit we may find additional ancestors with the same surnames, even though the photo itself may not indicate the familial relationship.

But isn’t that like trying to find a needle in a haystack, you might ask.  Yes, it surely can be. Personally, I have found only 3 photos of my relatives in photo archives.

But I want to share with you the text of an email that I received from one of my readers and why it may be worth your while to search these archives for your ancestors.

“….  It is so hard not to get into some of the full story of my research but I do want to tell you one finding that was astounding and it affirms the potential for spending time looking at historical photos.

Over time I was able to determine when and why my great-great-grandfather and his son moved to Austin TX in 1867. That made me curious about the city of Austin in the late 1800’s so I went to the Lawrence T. Jones III Texas photography collection held by SMU. I was even able to specify Austin in my search. As I skimmed through the thumbnails, I would enlarge photos that seemed interesting. One of the photos was a six man band and I zoomed in to get a better look. Lo and behold, someone had written the names of the 6 men in the photo and one of the guys in the middle was Leslie Price, my great-grandfather! The collection also included a jpg of the back of the photo which was dated December 2, 1867, Austin Texas! It was the find of a lifetime, totally unexpected, and discovered simply by looking through the collection. Leslie was 20 years old. He and his father, William B Price, had just moved to Austin because a yellow fever epidemic had killed WB’s wife and third child, Clay, and nearly wiped out La Grange Texas ….”

This was from Clay Price III, and I really appreciate his positive feedback and hopefully, it will inspire you to search these old photo archives as well, so that you can find something astounding, just like Mr. Price.

College and University Historical Student Newspaper Links in Canada

As you know, if you have visited this site previously, I have been presenting historical newspaper links to Free online collections in Canada over the past few years. To see all these collections, click on the Newspaper Links tab at the top of this web page.

Since the college/university experience is a sizable part of one’s life, it makes sense when we are searching for ancestor information, that we include these student publications in our research. Below is a list of links, presented by province and institution that is free for you to search.

Colleges, universities, specialty schools, and a few high school newspapers are included in this list. Hopefully researching these collections will uncover some interesting facts and stories about your ancestors while they were a student.

Please note – some of these have only recent archives because they likely have not had the funding to digitize their older issues of the student newspapers. But the majority do have digitized archives of their older issues, and of course, like all digitized collections, there may be date gaps. I frankly was pleasantly surprised that there were as many robust digital archives as there are. This is a rapidly expanding area of newspaper digitization, so the list will change frequently. And as always, I am sure that I missed some. Please let me know links of ones that I have missed in the Comments section.

For your information, these Student Collections will also be included in the province Historical Newspaper Link Summaries that I regularly update.

If there are duplicate listings, that is because the same newspaper title is available in more than one online collection.

Alberta

  • Athabasca University – Athabasca – The Voice Magazine
  • Mount Royal University – Calgary – Reflector
  • Northern Alberta Institute of Technology – Edmonton – The Nugget
  • Southern Alberta Institute of Technology – Calgary – The Weal
  • University of Alberta – Edmonton – The Gateway
  • University of Alberta, Augustana – Camrose – Augustana Medium
  • University of Calgary – Calgary – The Gauntlet
  • University of Lethbridge – Lethbridge – Meliorist

British Columbia

  • British Columbia Institute of Technology – Burnaby – LINK Magazine
  • Camosun College – Vicoria – ​Nexus
  • Capilano University – North Vancouver – Capilano Courier
  • College of New Caledonia – Prince George – ​Free Press
  • College of New Caledonia – Prince George – Confluence
  • Douglas College – New Westminster – Douglas Pinion
  • Douglas College – New Westminster – The Other Press
  • Kwantlen Polytechnic University – Surrey – Chronicle
  • Kwantlen Polytechnic University – Surrey – Runner
  • Langara College – Vancouver – The Voice
  • Simon Fraser University – Burnaby – The Peak 
  • Thompson Rivers University – Kamloops – The Omega
  • Trinity Western University – Langley – Salmon River Digest
  • Trinity Western University – Langley – The Echo
  • Trinity Western University – Langley – TWU Today
  • Trinity Western University – Langley – Mars’ Hill
  • University of British Columbia – Vancouver – Ubyssey 
  • University of British Columbia, Okanagan – Kelowna – The Phoenix
  • University of the Fraser Valley – Abbotsford – The Cascade
  • University of Northern British Columbia – Prince George – Over the Edge
  • University of Victoria – Victoria – The Martlet 
  • Vancouver Island University – Vancouver – The Navigator

Manitoba

  • Brandon University – Brandon – The Quill
  • Collège Universitaire de Saint-Boniface – Winnipeg – Le Réveil
  • Red River College – Winnipeg – The Projector
  • University of Manitoba – Winnipeg – The Manitoban
  • University of Winnipeg – Winnipeg – The Uniter

New Brunswick

  • Mount Allison University – Sackville – The Argosy
  • Saint John High School – Saint John – SJHS Hound
  • St. Thomas University – Fredericton – The Aquinian
  • University of New Brunswick – Fredericton – Brunswickan

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Memorial University – St. Johns – The Muse

Nova Scotia

Ontario

Prince Edward Island

Quebec

Saskatchewan

  • University of Regina – Regina – Carillon
  • University of Saskatchewan – Saskatoon – The Sheaf

Good Luck and Happy Hunting!

Why Use Proximity Searches When Searching Historical Newspapers Online

When researching historical newspapers online, we often have some basic capabilities used by most of the underlying search engines.

For example, one basic search that all of the search engines have is to enter one or multiple words in your search box. For multiple words, the engine generally assumes that without entering search operators such as “AND” or “OR” that you are implying an “AND”.  So if you are searching for someone named John Sousa, you can leave out the “AND” or put it in and the results will be all the pages that have the word “John” and the word “Sousa”.

Furthering our example, if you are looking for someone with the same name, you could encase the two words in quotes. So searching for “John Sousa” would return you all pages that have those two words next to each other only. But they must be next to each other for a page to be returned as a result.

Again with our example, in the “AND” case, we would get all pages that also have the name John Philip Sousa.  But in the case where we are using quotes, any occurrence of John Philip Sousa would not be a successful result.

Now let’s discuss the basics of proximity searching. Simply, proximity searching lets you search for two words within a specified number of words from one another. Let’s say your target person is named “John middle name Sousa, and you don’t know the middle name. If, like John Philip Sousa he used his middle name regularly, how would you find all the results?  If you use quotes like “John Sousa” you won’t find him, and if you don’t use quotes you may get a result of pages that have both John AND Sousa somewhere on a page.

The ideal way is to use a Proximity Search, and you would search for John and Sousa WITHIN one word of each other. This would return results where a middle name or a middle initial is used. 

Obituaries are good candidates for proximity searches, since fathers, brothers, uncles, married female relatives, etc. may be named in the obit. So a proximity search within 5 or 10 words from one another might give you some interesting results.

Another example would be an event such as the “Montgomery Bus Boycott”, where the word “bus” may not be used in all articles.

Now, the good news is that several online newspaper collections provide proximity searching and many do not. Chronicling America does but you are restricted to within 5, 10, 50, or 100. And those who use the Chronicling America search engine, such as South Carolina have the same feature.

Texas and Oklahoma’s search engines allow you to perform proximity searching within a selection of 1, 2, 3, 4… up to 25.

Utah’s allows 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 10. The New York NYS Historical Newspapers site only allows 5 or 10. 

Sadly, most of the online collections’ search engines do not provide proximity searching capabilities.

​So if available, try using proximity searches.  It might deliver results that you might miss otherwise.

Historical Shanghai Jewish World War II Era Newspapers Online

Prior to 1935 or so, I had approximately a dozen ancestors/relatives living in or around Berlin. As they were Jewish, their lives were already extremely difficult and about to become impossible. 

In the next ten years (from 1935 to 1945), three were murdered in the concentration camps; one died of “natural causes” – he was the patriarch of the family and was hidden from the Nazis; one committed suicide; one escaped to London; one escaped to Palestine; two escaped to America; and four escaped to Shanghai, which because of their loose visa requirements became a destination for thousands of Jewish refugees.

The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum has built a database that contains name, occupation and address information for many of the refugees.  Click on Database to search and access this information. [Please note that this database is no longer available – you may have some luck with the Wayback machine from Internet Archive]

As a newspaper research aficionado, I found that there were several newspapers written by and for Jews in Shanghai and have been digitized and are available online.

Thanks to the Leo Baeck Institute and the Internet Archive, you can perform full text searches of the newspapers in the collection. Some of the writing is in English, but most is in German. The newspapers are:

Chronicling America Adds Crowdsourcing

Chronicling America, through its new labs.loc.gov capability, is adding crowdsourcing of historic newspaper cartoons and photographs, which will allow users to provide captions for these images.

From the announcement of this new feature, entitled “Beyond Words”:

“The Library of Congress today launched labs.loc.gov, a new online space that will host a changing selection of experiments, projects, events and resources designed to encourage creative use of the Library’s digital collections. To help demonstrate the exciting discoveries that are possible, the new site will also feature a gallery of projects from data challenge winners and innovators-in-residence and blog posts and video presentations from leaders in the field.

“We already know the Library of Congress is the ultimate treasure chest, but with labs.loc.gov we are inviting explorers to help crack open digital discoveries and share the collections in new and innovative ways,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “Whether you’re tagging images from our digitized historic newspapers to help future visitors, or exploring the changing nature of democracy through the 25 million bibliographic records the Library recently made public, we are providing tools and inspiration that will lead to new uses and new ways of looking at the incredible materials here at the Library.”

One of the first features on labs.loc.gov is Beyond Words, a website that invites the public to identify cartoons and photographs in historic newspapers and provide captions that will turn images into searchable data. This fun crowdsourcing program grows the data set of text available for researchers who use visualization, text analysis and other digital humanities methodologies to discover new knowledge from Chronicling America—the Library’s large collection of historic American newspapers. Beyond Words is available as a pilot project to help the Library of Congress learn more about what subsets of Library data researchers are interested in and to grow the Library’s capacity for crowdsourcing.”

To read the entire article click on Library Launches labs.loc.gov

This is exciting news that will enable users through crowdsourcing to add captions that when added to the search index, will enable an added search experience of Chronicling America.