Small Town Papers – Another Useful Historic Newspaper Research Site

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Shame on yours truly for not being thorough! Over the past year, I have done a lot of research to discover online sites for historic newspaper research for genealogy and family history purposes. The end result of all that research is a set of about 60 articles that list free and subscription links by U.S. state and Canadian province. These can be found in the Newspapers! page here. There are about 10,000 newspapers and inks available.

I was aware of a site entitled Small Town Papers at the time I was researching and writing these articles, and in fact I looked at several of the over 250 newspapers available on that site. Apparently the ones I looked at only had papers from 1995 on – not what I would call “historic.” Thus these newspapers were not included in my articles and link lists.

But thanks to a loyal reader, my mistake has been rectified. Indeed there are historic newspapers available for you to browse and search, some as early as 1846.

I would encourage you to make Small Town Papers part of your newspaper research repertoire. I also encourage you strongly to read their Terms of Use as they are quite strict when compared to other free newspapers sites. Copying and downloading of pages found have specific rules and limitations. Always read about copyright and use “rules” on any newspaper site!

Lastly, sorry for my omission.  I hope that use of this site helps you find some interesting articles about your ancestors.


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Pay It Forward – Crowdsourcing Text Correction for Online Newspapers

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For all of us newspaper researchers – trying to find articles online about our ancestors can be a valuable tool for our genealogy and family history research.

But we are all hampered by the quality of the OCR process. This is not always the fault of the OCR software – quality of the original image, either paper or microfilm, coupled with the quality of the scan itself can lead to less than desirable results.

But there is hope. An emerging capability is being added to the online arsenal – and that is text correction by registered online users.

This “crowdsourcing” of fixes to the OCR output can be quite valuable to improving the indexes that are searched by the newspaper research software. I first became aware of this several years ago when I starting using the California Digital Newspaper Collection housed by the University of California, Riverside.  Now when I use it, if I see an obvious error in the OCR output, I correct it – hence “paying it forward” for the next user. This software was created by Veridian Software from New Zealand. It is used by several large collections, as well as many other sites. FYI – Verdian Software is also the creator of Elephind Elephind is the site where you can search multiple newspaper collections at once for newspapers from around the world.

There are a growing number of sites now who offer this crowdsourcing text correction feature, and not all are Veridian customers. This portends to help us even more in our newspaper research.  I hope more sites begin to offer this capability.

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After writing this article. I came across an article where the author, Rose Holley, lists the sites that she is aware of that offer this exciting new capability. I won’t copy her list so I offer the link: 

Crowdsourcing text correction and transcription of digitised historic newspapers: a list of sites

Her list is from March, 2013.  I suspect that there are others that offer this capability now. Thanks to Rose, a digital library specialist from Australia for all she has done to promote this great addition to our research toolkit. She is a pioneer in using crowdsourcing for libraries and archives.


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GenealogyBank and FamilySearch – What a Team!

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I don’t often comment or write about subscription-based newspaper sites and their updates, but this new collaboration between GenealogyBank and FamilySearch caught my eye.

Genealogy Bank has as part of their database, obituaries starting from 1980 through the current year. They have made this database available through FamilySearch, which was just announced.

There are over 500,000 searchable images.  It can be searched at United States, GenealogyBank Obituaries, 1980-2014.

The data from the obits are available via the FamilySearch search results.  It looks like currently you will still need to have a GenealogyBank subscription to see the images directly from the search result. However the images according to FamilySearch are browsable.

Thank you GenealogyBank and thank you FamilySearch!


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Be A Bad Speller… PLEASE!

PicturePhoto courtesy of Wikipedia

When thinking of a title for this article, I harkened back to my youth, when there was a famous British-born Jewish comedian, Henny Youngman. He was a master of “one-liners” and was very funny. He showed up on many TV variety shows.

Probably his most famous line was “Take my wife………..please!” This was where he was trying to suck you into thinking that he was using his wife as an example, hence “Take my wife” (and the unstated “for example”).  And then a long pause and the irresistible “Please” where he wanted the listener to take her away.

At any rate, what the heck does this have to do with genealogy and family history research?

Lots and lots.

If you do online research for information and records about your ancestors and other family tree inhabitants, you are always faced with a search box – where you enter in many cases someone’s name.

And therein lies the problem. Because people either didn’t spell correctly or when indexing didn’t enter the information correctly.

So if you are searching, you are always batting:

  • Census takers with lousy handwriting
  • People who didn’t spell their name the same way every time they were asked.  (I have some great grandparents who did this all the time).  I have some ancestors who used so many variations that I still don’t know the “proper” spelling of their surname
  • Indexers who wrote down a misspelled name in a log or journal
  • Indexers for online indexes and other record databases who type the names improperly and the mistake is not caught
  • Newspapers that often misspelled surnames
  • For newspaper indexes, lousy source quality, or scanning and OCR errors

As an example, one of my family tree surnames is spelled “Braunhart”.  I have found it in census records, indexes, and newspapers spelled “Brownhart”, “Braunhard”, “Braunhar”, “Braunhardt”, etc.

Now ancestry.com and FamilySearch as two examples, will include as an option, variations on the spelling that you entered in  the search criteria box and present many more “candidate” search results.

However, I do not rely on that. I prefer to INTENTIONALLY misspell these names myself, with a bunch of different variations.  And THAT has been very successful for me – especially with newspaper research. Many ancestor records and newspaper articles have been found as a result of this.

So the moral of this story is:

Be a bad speller… Please!  You will be glad that you did.


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Poll Results! – The Genealogy Newspaper Research Poll

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Two weeks ago I asked readers to take The Genealogy Newspaper Research Poll.

Below are the results.  Not too many big surprises although some conclusions can be made from these results.  My commentary regarding these conclusions are included along with the results for each of the seven questions.


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These results were a VERY big surprise. Over 2/3 were very frequent newspaper researchers, which makes my heart go pitty pat. It looks like we need to get the nine going though who rarely do this kind of research

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It looks like there is room for improvement for many, although half boasted about their research prowess. Good for them!

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I found this to be one of the more interesting and revealing responses.  Two takeaways – I wonder what the “Others’ are; and it appears that Newspaper Archive is not as popular as it once was.

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Again a quite interesting response. Newspaper Archive has less who have it as a current subscription while the others have more now than “not currently subscribed to”)

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I didn’t find too many surprises here.

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No surprise here, but I think the user interface may play a role in the responses.  But that is just my guess.

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I was pleasantly surprised to see that not all researchers have only been online researchers and in the past have had to wash newspaper ink off their fingers after completing their research.


What conclusions can you draw from these responses?  Please let us know in the Comments!
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Newspaper Research Tip – Don’t Always Search for Surnames

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One of the things that all of us who search our genealogy and family history can fall into – we always seem to search for surnames.

Obviously this is logical, but it can be a trap. Because, especially for newspapers – there is a lot of other information in articles that are pertinent to finding one of your ancestors. 

This is especially true when we have a “hard to spell” surname, or one that is spelled several different ways.  You can be sure that the journalists, always up against a deadline – did not check to make sure that all the names were spelled correctly.  And furthermore, for online newspaper databases, the quality of the original, the scan and the OCR process can indeed affect the outcome of the index that one is searching.

How about some examples that may lead to better results?

  • Search for an address – if you know the address of an ancestor, search for it.  A lot of times newspapers would include the residence of someone – so that may be a good place to try.
  • Search for a business name – if your ancestor owned a small business, you might be able to retrieve interesting articles by searching for that name.
  • Search for a lodge or club – if your ancestor belonged to or was an officer in a club or lodge or other group – search for that name.
  • Search for an occupation – if your ancestor had a unique occupation, try searching for that.
  • Search for the name of a sports team or school – often your ancestor may show up in a box score or in a list of graduates.
  • Search for the name of a military unit – if they were in the military, often the complete unit name is included in an article.
  • Search for a hobby or avocation – did Aunt Mary win ribbons at the state fair?  Or did Uncle Joe collect coins?

In all of these cases it is recommended that you limit the search to a specific newspaper or town/city. I suspect that if you performed a nationwide search for “123 Elm Street” or “gasfitter” you might get too many results to pore over.

So if searching for surnames (again especially with a difficult to spell or with several alternative spellings) doesn’t get you the results that you desire – try some of these alternatives listed above.  And you can always search for a surname AND some of these options if the site that you are using has Boolean search capability.

Good luck!


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Newspaper Research Tip – 6 Ways to Not Screw Up

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Finding information and articles in newspapers about your ancestors is incredibly rewarding.  It is my favorite type of research, genealogy-wise.

But if you are not careful you can make assumptions about what is in ink on the newsprint and foul up your research because of poor conclusions.

And it is easy to do, correct?  We fall into the trap of assuming that if it is published then it must be right.

So let’s be careful out there.

Here are 6 ways to not screw up:

  1. Just because the obituary states that your ancestor was a “native of” Boston, Massachusetts doesn’t mean that they were born there.  He may have lived there for decades, or maybe his parents moved there when he was 3 months old and everyone assumed he was born there.  So just because the obit states the city that he was a “native of” does not mean he was born there.
  2. There is a section in the Vitals area of the newspapers for Marriage Licenses.  So your ancestor or research target is listed there with their intended spouse. Guess what – the operative word is “intended.”  Just because they got a license does not mean that a wedding took place.. You have more research to do.
  3. Divorces Filed and Interlocutory Decrees are NOT Divorces. Only Divorces Granted count.
  4. Don’t assume that all articles are going to be in the newspapers of the state of residence for your ancestor.  If your target lived near the state border, check out neighboring state newspapers. For example, if they lived in Council Bluffs, Iowa, check out the Omaha, Nebraska papers.  Or if they lived in Camden, New Jersey, check out the Philadelphia newspapers. [Thanks to a recent reader for this tip].  Furthermore, interesting articles were copied all over the country.  My 3rd great uncle obtained possession of Geronimo’s knife and the article was in papers in several states as a human interest story.
  5. If you are searching for a woman, don’t just search for her given name and married surname.  Often women who were adults and married were written as Mrs. Robert Smith rather than Gladys Smith for example.
  6. Just because the obituary states that burial is to take place at Mountain View Cemetery doesn’t mean that they were actually buried there.  There may have been a last minute change of plans by the family.  Or Mountain View was later closed and the gravestones and remains were moved to another cemetery.

The bottom line is that one should not assume that everything in the newspaper is correct.  These examples are just a few where improper conclusions can lead to documenting inaccurate facts and furthermore, wasting time in future research.


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10 Ways to Compare Ancestor Photos with Software

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OK, so you have collected all these ancestor photos, either from your parents or grandparents photo albums (or loose photos). And you have talked to cousins and aunts and uncles and have borrowed theirs and maybe have scanned them. Now what?

If you are like me you have created an “Unknowns” folder of scanned photo images or you have them in a box or envelope somewhere. The operative word is “Unknown.”

I am lucky – I have a genealogy “buddy” 2nd cousin who I collaborate with and we try to decide who these people are, And we look at where the photo was taken, what the surroundings are and who they look like. Not very scientific but it does seem to work.  And once in a while we feel we have a Positive ID.

You can always read about photo dating and/or hire experts such as Maureen Taylor or Jayne Shrimpton. Then again RootsChat in the UK has a neat forum where you can get photos “dated” by crowdsourcing volunteers. And these are certainly your “best bets” in my opinion.  Full disclosure: I have never used any of these services, but I may consider their use in the future.

But is there another way? There are lots of software tools, all the way from photo duplicate finders and aging apps on smartphones to the cream of the crop, which are those facial recognition packages that have been created for law enforcement and security.

But we don’t want to spend a gazillion dollars doing this do we? What are some of the software and applications out there that you might want to look at? Below is a random list of different types of applications that you can try. Some perform duplicate analysis by comparing photos. Others do face analysis to find those who seem to “belong together.” And then there are some who age up or down from a source photo to estimate what the face would like look years in the future or past.

Please note that I am not reviewing any of these for their positive or negative characteristics, nor do I have any relationship with the creators of any of these packages. This is just a list of applications that you might want to research further and consider for your own use.

A word of caution for those packages that do face tagging. If you have photos of your grandmother’s elementary school class, or you Dad’s graduating class from Boot Camp, many of these applications will create a “face” for every single person in the photo, which means you might be in for some tedious work if you aren’t interested in their class members. So choose the photos that you wish to “auto analyze” carefully.

  • Picasa – I have used Picasa for many years and until a while ago never made use of their face/name tagging capability. But it is fairly easy to use
  • Fotobounce – similar to Picasa regarding face tagging – it is also fairly easy to use
  • VisiPics –  I have used this application to find duplicates
  • Awesome Photo Duplicate Finder – I have used this application to find duplicates
  • Visual Face Recognition – Their “Faceoff” product may be worth a try. I have not used it personally.
  • HourFace – a smartphone app that “ages” a subject photo
  • Aging Booth – a smartphone app that “ages” a subject photo
  • DeepFace and FindMyFace –  this is software that Facebook and Google Plus (respectively) use to aid in tagging photos
  • Photo Organizers with some facial detection capability – iPhoto, Windows Live Gallery, Photoshop Elements, and digiKam
  • PhotoFaceMatch – was demonstrated at RootsTech; I am interested in following this application

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. If you are aware of any other applications that may assist other ancestor hunters in our quest to match names with photos, please comment!


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Europeana Newspapers – The Historical Newspapers Project

PictureLogo from www.europeana-newspapers.eu

As an aficionado of historical newspapers, especially those available online, I have been reading some about the Europeana Newspapers project. 

This project is a collaboration between about 30 partners – some are libraries providing digital newspaper collections, some are universities and others are providing technology and technical expertise. All from Europe.

The initial goal of the project – slated to end a three-year run in 2015, is to provide new technology and an initial collection size of 10 million full text searchable pages.

I won’t repeat the details of their activities – they can be reviewed by visiting the Europeana Newspapers site. There are presentation slides, a blog and a newsletter full of project information.

One of the goals of their project is to provide an easily usable interface for users of the new capability. I found the main page of the Prototype to be easily navigated. I did have a question about the interface after you had selected a search result and the manipulation of the resulting image, but it is quite easy to use. And it does have a nice function where you can narrow your search results further after you have completed the search. To me the prototype has a very nice set of features and seems to be state-of-the-art in terms of online newspaper software. They also are promising a way to correct poorly OCR’d text as a future addition. This is a great idea, and unfortunately one that is not available on very many current sites, although sorely needed.

This is a very promising endeavor – and for those of you with European ancestors – definitely a project to watch. Keep your eye on it.


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15 Reasons to Research Funeral and Memorial Books

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There are a bunch of different documents and records that the genealogist and family historian can utilize to find out more about one’s ancestors, no matter whether they be related to life event dates or locations or include other information.

I have found that funeral and memorial books hold a ton of interesting information, much more so then one might initially consider. Some memorial books are quite ornate and leather bound, but many are quite simple and have less than 6 pages (at least the ones from the mid to late 20th century for my family).

Here is a sampling of one from the service of one of my ancestors, followed by a list of the types of information that can be gleaned from these pages.  


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Let’s go through the pages one by one and see what is available to us for research:

  • Name of the deceased – Often the complete name including middle name is provided. For women, sometimes the maiden name and married name is written, but sometimes just the married surname.
  • Birth Date
  • Birth Location
  • Death Date
  • Death Location
  • Age – often expressed in years, months, and days.
  • Parents Names
  • Grandparents Names
  • Members of the Deceased’s Family –  usually very helpful information, especially if there is no obituary.
  • Obituary – I have one memorial for my great grandmother that has her obituary pasted in the memorial book.
  • Location of Services
  • Officiating Clergy
  • Place of Interment
  • Date of Interment
  • Friends and Flowers –  this is the “holy grail” in my opinion for information in these books. If you are familiar with collateral research and especially Elizabeth Shown Mills’ FANs  (Friends, Associates, and Neighbors) – you know how useful this research can be. Also you know that having these people’s names listed as attendees at a funeral service mean that somehow they knew the deceased. Maybe they were a co-worker, or a neighbor, or a relative or friend of one of the deceased’s children. That information is certainly useful when trying to find a census record when the deceased’s last name has been butchered by the census taker or the indexer. Maybe for land plats they were their neighbors as well. Maybe by researching a co-worker you can discover their occupation. And lots of other “side-door” research and analysis of these names may bear fruit on the actual person that you are researching.

Beyond all of this information – maybe their favorite hymns were sung. Also one or two of their favorite poems were included in the book. All of this adds richness to our understanding of the life of the deceased – not just the dates and typical family tree information.

What other information have you discovered in memorial books from your family?

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