4 Challenges in Downloading Historical Newspaper Articles

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I have been researching online historical newspaper sites for several years, both the free ones as well as the subscription-based sites. Their software capabilities, independent of the size and quality of their scanned collections, break down into two parts:

  1. How do you search the site and find “stuff”
  2. How do you download and save the articles that you find

This post is all about the second part – how do you download and save materials.

If you remember only ONE thing about this article it is this:

“Make sure you plan ahead before you download an article.”

Many of these sites use different underlying base software and they all are quite different in their approach to providing a download capability.

Among the varying features that I have found may require you to do a combination of the items below:

  1. Download a .pdf of the page that contains your desired article
  2. Download a .jpg of the page that contains your desired article
  3. Use a software snipping tool such as the Windows “Snipping Tool” or some commercial offerings, such as SnagIt, Shutter, Jing, etc. There are many of these tools. So you just snip the article with this tool.
  4. The newspaper library software will snip the article for you and present it as a “whole” article.
  5. The newspaper library software will snip the article for you and present it in several pieces that comprise the entire article, such as the headline, and each paragraph as an independent .jpg file

The concern with all of these methods is “How do you end up with a complete article that is large enough to read or is zoomable?”

“Zoomability” is one of the biggest complaints that I hear from my fellow online historical newspaper researchers after they download an article.

​The 4 challenges regarding downloading an article and ending up with what you want and need are presented below with visual examples:

Highlights – almost every online site presents the selected article after a search with highlighted search terms like these:


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​So, depending on the capabilities provided by the site software, make sure that if you do NOT want to download the article with the highlighted text, that you download the article the way that you want it. There is always a way to get the article without the highlights. You can experiment with the software or just download the page that has your article and crop it later.

Chopped Up Articles –  A few of the sites will present the article in a “chopped up” format, depending on the length of the article. Usually the title or headline is separated from the text, and if it is a long article, there may be several parts. For example:

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So just like your need to concern yourself with downloading highlighted text, you will need to be careful with downloading articles that are broken up, as in the examples. It is always safest to download the article (or entire page) in .pdf format and crop to your liking later. With .pdf formats you can generally zoom to the size you desire and then crop or snip the article in one piece.


The Article is Too Small –  this is the challenge that requires the most forethought when saving the article for later use. Much of the time, the repository software will allow you to download or snip articles in several different ways. Unfortunately, if you do not check your downloaded image before you leave the site, you might be disappointed in the size or the quality of said download. Make sure that it is either zoomable after the download or if not, that the article is zoomed to a readable size prior to downloading.  Also, if it is too small when downloaded, depending on how the site prepares the clipping, zooming later may degrade the quality so that when zoomed, it is so fuzzy that you can’t read it. 

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Just like the other challenges, forethought will lead to the best results. It is always safest to download the article (or entire page) in .pdf format and crop to your liking later. With .pdf formats you can generally zoom to the size you desire and then crop or snip the article in one piece.

Oops, I Forgot the Citation – This is easily the biggest mistake one can make and creates many “smack your head” moments. When I first started searching newspapers, I got so excited when I found an article about one of my ancestors that told more of his or her life story – that I just downloaded the article and did not record the details about the newspaper that I found it in. In order for me to find the article again for those that I discovered online – I will have to perform all those searches again. Many of the repositories have a function or a link where the source details are presented. Here is an example from The Missouri Digital Newspaper collection:

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In this example. the left image shows you the name of the newspaper and date of publication. In order to obtain more details, the link “View Description” when clicked will yield the image on the right, which contains much more information.  What I do is include the publication title, publication date and page number as part of the file name of the downloaded .pdf or image file.

The moral of the story is that online newspaper collections can be an incredibly valuable tool for you family history and genealogy research. Fortunately, much of what is written above and the challenges presented are not huge to overcome. Just think ahead and make sure that the articles that you download are readable and in a format and size that pleases you and your future readers. And make sure you document where the articles came from!

And remember:

“Make sure you plan ahead before you download an article.”

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7 thoughts on “4 Challenges in Downloading Historical Newspaper Articles”

  1. Great post, Kenneth – very helpful. Ooops – that citation problem!! That’s been my biggest issue in downloading articles. Plus I have some cut/pasted obituaries/articles in the back of my 1800s greatgrandfather’s Souvenirs Album – with often no details of date or newspaper – not even the place! I now download the entire page, plus a Snagit of the article I want, and tag it with all the details. Eventually we do learn!

  2. It doesn’t look like you accessed Newspapers.com. I find there site has a robust search engine, that remembers what you’ve entered, unlike oh, Chronicling America or MyHeritage. Their zoom while viewing is smooth and their clip feature allows me to name the clip as I will save it as an image. Even better, it can be saved to Ancestry where the clip name is preserved and the citation is complete and imported to FTM and RM. They also make it easy to determine what papers they have for a location. Worth every penny IMHO.

    1. Kenneth R Marks

      Bonnie, I have accessed that site as well as all the others. No site is perfect – the message here is that no matter which site that you are using that you must consider the download so that you get a zoomable article later. Newspaper.com is good for sure but that is not the only site that folks research on. Thanks for your comment.

  3. I have no problems with the issues here with clippings from Newspapers.com. The problem I have is saving the clipping that is a form that is searchable without puting it through an OCR app. I have one clipping that came from newspapers.com that is searchable by my Evernote app. I don’t know how I clipped that with the useful result. I’ve tried every way I know to clip and article without success.

  4. I had quite a bit of success in finding articles in the online newspapers. What I do is downloard the entire page as a .pdf. Open the file, enlarge the article as much as I can, then snip it using the Windows Snipit tool. Save as either a .jpg or.png naming it by persons name, newspaper’s name and issue date. So far that is working for me.

    1. Linda,
      That is exactly what I do. Except that I add the page number of the newspaper page that the article comes from. That IMO is the best way to get what I want.

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