21 Online Newspaper Research Do’s and Don’ts

There are several ways to enhance your ability to find what you are looking for in an online newspaper collection.

Then again, there are also several ways to screw it up. Here’s a list of Do’s and Don’ts, that if followed, will improve your success rate:

  • DO – Misspell search criteria words on purpose. The OCR process tried to create letters from dots, not words
  • DON’T – Limit your search to just surnames and given names
  • DO – Search in the nearest big city or county seat
  • DON’T – Purchase an online newspaper subscription because it’s cheap. Check the title catalog and locations
  • DO – Add the word(s) beloved, dear, or loving to help find obituaries
  • DON’T – Allow yourself to get frustrated. Remember you are searching against a database which in its’ simplest definition is just a bunch of black ink dots.
  • DO – Perform a search with syllables rather than whole words to take advantage of the significant use of hyphenated words in older newspapers
  • DON’T – Ask someone on social media to perform a subscription search for you and send you a clipping. It goes against the Terms of Service for subscription sites.
  • DO – Take advantage of free trials with subscription based newspaper sites.
  • DON’T – Assume that the cemetery in the obituary is where the ancestor is actually buried now. It could have been changed or the body moved.
  • DO – Use abbreviations, such as Wm., or Jos., or Eliz., or Ave., or Sgt., etc. in your search criteria
  • DON’T – Limit yourself to just common spellings of locations. Try NYC or Philly for example.
  • DO – Search for husbands name with Mrs for married women
  • DON’T – Limit yourself to the General search or Basic search.  Use Advanced search function always
  • DO – Search for a few weeks prior to death date in the newspaper for hospitalization, illness or accident – helps determine the cause of death
  • DON’T – Assume that because the Obituary says “native of”, that the person was actually born there.
  • DO – Exchange a “b” for an “h”, or a “c” for an “e’ and many other combinations since they are very similar to the OCR process many times.
  • DON’T – Just search U.S. newspapers. Search newspapers from the “old country”
  • DO – Search for a street address. You might be surprised.
  • DON’T – Ever. Give. Up.
  • DO – Have fun.  It’s rewarding to find out that your great uncle was shot at.

To download the 21 Do’s and Don’ts Newspaper Research Quick Sheet PDF, click on Download File below:

NRT – 21 Do’s and Don’ts When Researching Historical Newspapers

For more details, and more newspaper research tips, check out my Newspapers page!

Good Luck and Happy Hunting!

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