Use Abbreviations in Your Newspaper Searches to Find 50% More Ancestor Articles


In old newspapers, abbreviations were used to save space. Abbreviations were used to shorten many words – the most notable being given names as well as addresses.

Remember that your search criteria is just a series of letters that are matched against a search index that was created from the scan and OCR process applied to the subject newspaper page.

Your search index database is not smart enough, for example, to interpret “ave.” for the word “avenue.”  So if you are entering “335 14th Avenue” – if the search index includes “Ave” the search will not be successful. Therefore you must search both “335 14th Avenue” and “335 14th Ave” to get all possible results.

So when developing your search criteria for both genealogy and newspaper searches, you need to include abbreviations in your repertoire.

Here are some examples of abbreviations that you should employ in your search criteria:

  • For street names, try “ave” and “avenue” Also “st” and “street”. There is a great number of others that you should consider for the “type” of “street such as Wy and Way, Ct and Court, Pl and Place, etc..
  • For cities, if there is an abbreviation – for example NYC for New York City, or Philly for Philadelphia, try the abbreviation as well as the whole city name.
  • How about business names – “co” and “company”, “inc” and “incorporated”, etc.
  • Given names can provide a great number of increased results by using abbreviations. I have seen as much as 80% more results with given name abbreviations, such as “Wm” for William, or “Jno” for John, or “Jos” for Joseph, “Eliz” for Elizabeth, and “Robt” for Robert, just to name a few. Here is a terrific list from Genealogy In Time.
  • One often forgotten is “Mrs.” 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.
  • This one is a bit unique.  But if you are searching classified ads, you can always search for a phone number. We certainly don’t know the phone numbers from many 20th century ancestors, but if you happen to find it in a telephone directory, you might find classified ads in newspapers by searching that phone number. When I was a kid, our number was Elgin 1-1696, so I would search for “Elgin” as well as “El” before the numbers.
  • For military titles, try “Capt” for Captain, Col” for “Colonel”, Sgt” for Sergeant, etc.

There may be many others, so you need to search for abbreviated words as well as entire words to maximize your search results. My guess is that you can likely increase your pertinent results by as much as 50%.

To download the Abbreviations Quick Sheet PDF, click on

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