This article is not a list of what online sites you should search. This is about determining the locations where your ancestors MAY have an article written about them. Then you can determine where to search, whether online or in an archive or library.
So how do you know where to find your ancestors in newspapers? And what date ranges do you use as part of your search?
The answers may seem obvious but they are not. So let’s examine what you need to consider to find the locations where these articles await.
- The most obvious question is “Where have they lived?” From various documents and records that you have collected, either BMD information, city directories, census records, etc., you can establish what their cities of residence were. At the bottom of this article we will show where to find newspapers for those cities.
- I would not limit your search for newspaper titles to just the city of residence. Span out a bit and include the newspaper for the county seat. There is likely to be different types of information published in the newspapers for that likely larger populated area.
- 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, try the Philadelphia newspapers.
- Unique human interest articles were copied all over the country and world. One of my ancestors was given Geronimo’s knife in the 1880’s in California and the article was published in papers in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Indiana and London, England as a human interest story.
- Don’t just search for articles for the dates that the ancestor was alive. Often, newspapers had a column that featured stories from 10 years ago, 25 years ago, etc. and your ancestor might be mentioned in that column. Furthermore, if your ancestor was well known in the community, he or she might be referred to in an article a few years after their death. This is tricky if your ancestor has a common name and date ranges are important to narrowing the number of search results.
- When searching for obituaries, include a couple of weeks after the death of the ancestor. Many times the obituary publication was delayed, but more importantly, some obituaries were changed after their original publication because of errors, modifications, or additions. So don’t just stop searching after you have found the first one. Furthermore, try searching a few days or weeks before the ancestors’ death. They might have been in an accident, or were ill for some time and that information may have warranted an article in the newspaper.
- Regarding obituaries, don’t just limit your search to the location of the ancestors death. Many times the obituary is copied (and possibly altered) in newspapers in the area where your ancestor had lived previously. I have several examples of this in my family.
Once you have determined the cities and date ranges of interest, you can search the database from the Library of Congress, that provides detailed title information for over 150,000 newspaper titles published in the United States. More importantly, it offers the holdings information for each of these newspapers – whether in archives, libraries or other institutions.
For access to online collections, I would encourage you to review the Newspaper Research Links page on this website, where links to over 20,000 newspapers are presented.
Finding articles is an exercise of narrowing and expanding, combining dates and locations as part of your search plan. It is tricky and requires persistence. It is definitely an art rather than a science, in my opinion.