10 Reasons Why You Can’t Find Ancestor Articles in Online Newspapers


​For those of us who research newspapers to find articles about our ancestors, there is one thing to keep in mind:

“Researching newspapers is a marathon, not a sprint”

OK, enough of the platitude, but why can’t I find what I am looking for?  

Here are 10 reasons why you might be unsuccessful and what to do about it:

  1. All newspapers are not online. Period.  My guess is that it is in the 20 to 25% range (including subscription collections), but that is just a bit of an educated guess. You may have to visit a library or archive and browse through microfilm and original newsprint.
  2. All newspapers online to search are not free. You might just need to invest in one of the subscription sites. I have done so and found articles and obituaries that are not in the free collections. There are often free trials available if you are strapped financially.
  3. You have found newspapers available but they don’t have the dates that you are looking for.  This happens all the time, so make sure that you check the dates available in the collections before you search.
  4. Your search criteria is lacking. Please check the Newspapers! page on this site for tips and articles on how to search to produce the best results. Don’t just search surnames.  Vary your spelling. Etc.
  5. Are you Browsing? If the OCR process doesn’t convert the dots on the newsprint to the proper text, then the word will not be indexed properly.  But browsing through pages may help you find what you are looking for. More tedious?  Yes, but I have found a bunch of pertinent articles by browsing.  Add browsing to your repertoire.
  6. Don’t expect Chronicling America, or Google News Archive, or the subscription sites to always have what you need. Check out my Newspaper Links to find free online collections with thousands of titles.
  7. For your geographical area of interest, check city, county, state, local public library, college and university websites for new online collections.  The link lists in #6 above can’t keep track of every new collection immediately, so do a bit of research for new collections yourself in the targeted area.
  8. Ask for help. In the Genealogy and Newspapers Facebook Group, there are several members who have offered to look up newspapers for other members in the collections that they have access to, as just one example. But, because of copyright and terms of service restrictions in subscription collections, they can only tell you where to find the newspaper and possibly provide a transcription – NOT the newspaper image itself.
  9. Have a plan. Keep track of your searches and ancestors that you are searching for in a log. Maybe in the future additional dates and/or collections will have the target newspaper that you are waiting for.
  10. Be patient.  Don’t give up.  Educate yourself in the meantime.  Become a patient researching machine.

Here’s a video for this list of reasons if you would like to kick back and watch for about 90 seconds:


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