9 Clever Newspaper Research Techniques for Genealogy


As an aficionado of newspaper research for genealogy and family history, I have done a lot of searching. Most recently it has been of the online variety.

One can be quite successful in spite of the limitations of poor quality source material, scanning deficiencies and OCR limitations.

The best results are usually because of good planning, rather than simple surname searching and hoping. Here are a few techniques that you can employ to find that elusive ancestor article that you may have been trying to find:

  1. Looking for a marriage license announcement? These were aplenty in older newspapers, and generally listed the bride and groom’s full name and address.  Don’t just enter their name – if you have access to city directories to find their address (or know it already), why not include the surname and the city name, or the surname and the street name, etc. Unless your ancestor is named John Smith who lived on Main Street, using this technique might turn up something.
  2. I have written before about deliberately misspelling surnames because of how the index does not represent the original text because of quality, scanning and OCR limitations.  See more of this in Newspaper Research Tip – Change The Letters”
  3. Looking for an obituary? Try adding the word “beloved” or “dear” to your search criteria in addition to the name. Those words are in many if not most obituaries.  Or the word “brother” or “sister” or “wife” or Husband.”  You get the idea.
  4. How about combining the surname and occupation of your target ancestor, or their surname and name of the lodge, church, or club they belonged to?  If the site offers a proximity search capability, you could try using “25 words apart”. That way if your ancestor is in an article talking about their club, etc. you might pick up something. The same works for schools attended as well.
  5. I have written about this previously and the idea actually came from a reader and is a great one – try leaving out the names and just search for an address of where they lived (or worked). Check out Why You Should Search for Addresses in Newspapers and read Diane’s terrific example of success using this technique.
  6. Remember that married women were not always addressed with their first name in a newspaper article, but were written as Mrs. Robert Smith for example, regardless if their name was Mildred, Margaret, or Mary.  So incorporate that into your search criteria.
  7. Try abbreviations for names, such as “Wm” for William, or “Jno” for John, or “Jos” for Joseph, and “Robt” for Robert, just to name a few. Here is a terrific list from Genealogy In Time.
  8. Looking for a birth announcement?  Try adding the words “Born to” or “Born to the wife of” to the surname of the father in your search box.
  9. I have said this before and I will say it again – if the site has an “Advanced Search” capability – use it always. You will have many more options at your disposal.

Try some of these and I suspect you will achieve a higher degree of success.  What different clever ideas have you used as search criteria?


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  1. I love these tips. You’d think they are obvious, but they’re not. I’ve been very frustrated looking for someone and getting 1000 hits because the index splits the name or there really are that many possibilities. And try searching for a girl named Grace Christian — maybe if I apply your tips, I’ll no longer be hampered with articles about Christian Scientists and every church in the book.

  2. I recently found an obituary for someone in my husband’s family that bascially said “Mrs. Whoever Mourns the Loss of Her Baby.” Well, thankfully I found it with the last name. But, this child was not a baby! He was almost 8 years old! But, he was “the” baby of a large family.

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