The Easiest Way to Find Every Historical Newspaper in America

The fact is that all old newspapers ever published in the United States are not online. Much less than you might think.

I recently did a webinar about using Chronicling America to its fullest and obtaining more ancestor articles. In so doing, it was an interesting comparison of the number of online newspapers on that site versus the number of newspapers ever published in America.

What is your guess of the percentage?  10%?  20%?  5%?

No, the answer (at least with respect to Chronicling America) is that there are approximately 3,500 online titles and there have been over 156,000 titles ever published in the U.S.  That yields just a tad over 2.2%. That’s not much, is it?

Of course, Chronicling America doesn’t represent all of the online titles and digitized pages available. My research results in about 35,000 free online links for the U.S. (see the Newspaper Links page on this website for all the links).  So  35,000 (online) in comparison to 156,000 (published) – that’s about 22% of the titles.

What about some of the paid sites, such as GenealogyBank, Newspaper.com, etc.?  GenealogyBank on their website claims over 13,000 titles and Newspapers dot com states 20,000. And that doesn’t count Newspaper Archive, My Heritage, or FindMyPast’s collections. And there is considerable overlap probably.

So if we are being generous, let’s add another 15% for the paid sites. That says that 30% have been digitized.  That’s titles, NOT pages.  A single title that has one page from one issue in our math example counts the same as a title published daily for every year for a hundred years.

The moral of the story is that with all the date gaps that we newspaper researchers run into – it is almost impossible to figure out how much indeed has been digitized.

So let’s just say for now that 15 to 30% of all U.S. newspaper pages have been digitized. Personally, I think that’s a very high number, but……

That leaves about 70-85% that are NOT online! Now, what the heck do we do? Offline research – that’s what. And the Library of Congress helps us out with the US Newspaper Directory from 1690 – Present so we can do offline research.

This handy directory provides not just multiple ways to find newspapers published, but tons of facts about those newspapers. Just do your choice of searches from the main US Newspaper Directory from 1690 – Present pageHere’s an example of a “fact” page”. It is presented in two parts. the first is the Top Half, and the second is the Bottom Half.


See all the interesting information about the paper? If you had an ancestor from the area that you think might be mentioned in this paper – and the paper was not online – maybe you could find it at an archive or library in original form or microfilm.From this “facts” page, you can actually find out where the newspaper is held. Just click on the “View complete holdings information” link at the bottom. Here are some of the results for this newspaper:

So, you can see that it is available for your browsing pleasure at several libraries and archives – both in original and in microfilm form. Don’t give up if your paper of interest is not online.  Visit the US Newspaper Directory from 1690 – Present from the Library of Congress.

Good Luck – persistence will win out.

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7 Comments

  1. Thanks for this reminder about the papers! I actually came across something in my great aunt’s genealogy papers where she’d written for an “Affidavit of Publication” that was supposedly printed for 4 weeks in a certain paper. I don’t see a reply so I’m guessing she didn’t get one. Anyway, I have found the paper on Chronicling America (not digitized, just the info) but I don’t understand the dates it’s available on microfilm. I think I’ll try your Webinar and see what I can learn! Thanks!

  2. I’ve used the catalogue to find a specific newspaper in a library’s holdings. Then I write to the library either requesting ILL of their film or a lookup.

  3. Could you explain what “scattered issues wanting” means in some of the descriptions of the papers on this site?

    1. I suspect that it means that there are gaps in the dates and all issues are not online, and they are hoping that someone will have the missing issues so they can digitize them. That is my guess.

  4. Thank you for continuing to open up new avenues to explore to find the stories hidden in our family histories. I would never known where to look

  5. I can say for certain that not all existing papers are listed in the Directory. The Directory only lists those that responded to the NEH survey. I performed newspaper research at a small town historical society who’s newspaper titles did not show up in the directory nor did the society’s repository. So it is always worth checking your small town societies if your paper is not listed in the Directory, just as another possible source. The Directory is extensive but not complete.

    1. Point taken. My objective with the word “Every” is to encourage people to use the Directory. It is quite helpful. Other types of newspapers that aren’t in the directory include high school and college student newspapers.

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