Newspapers are an incredible resource for genealogical and family history research and are too often overlooked.
The first newspaper was printed more than 400 years ago. And for more than 400 years, newspapers have been jam-packed with genealogical information. While many have been lost over time, there’s still plenty to find.
Newspapers.com has collected and digitized thousands of newspapers and put them all at your fingertips. Try a quick search here.
At a Glance
Newspapers.com is the single largest online collection of historical newspapers in the world. In their collection you will find:
- More than 8,700 individual titles
- More than 400 million pages of newsprint
- Millions of new pages added every month
- Newspapers from everywhere in the United States (including Guam and Puerto Rico), Canada, England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Panama
- Some editions going back to the early 1700s
- Extensive collections from the 1800s, 1900s, and 2000s
With all of the other sources of family history information out there, why newspapers?
Newspapers are an incredible source when it comes to genealogy. They contain references and resources that are not captured in documents like birth certificates or census records.
For example, just in obituaries alone, you can discover:
- Names of parents, spouses, siblings, children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and more
- Places of birth, death, and sometimes marriage
- Funeral arrangements, including where your ancestors are buried
- Social clubs, activities, schools attended, and church membership
With a little bit of luck, you can find a wide range of other articles as well, such as:
- Engagement and wedding announcements
- Birth announcements
- Attendance at social functions
- Places your ancestors are about to visit, or from which they have just returned
- School enrollment and graduation lists
- Court appearances
- Property sales
- Entering or returning from the military
- And much more!
Don’t forget to check the front-page headlines, too. You just might find that article about the time your great-grandmother saved her neighbor from drowning in the river.
All of these stories help to flesh out your ancestors’ lives. They provide a different perspective and help make them more than just a list of places and dates.
And so much of this information is not recorded anywhere else.
Of course, what you find may not always be good news. You may learn that your ancestors were unsavory characters, hooligans, and law-breakers. Be prepared to deal with whatever you find.
Stories change over time. Memories fade, or the story gets exaggerated until you can’t tell truth from fiction. But newspaper accounts from the time can help you ferret out the truth in the story, and can help you confirm (or correct) those stories that have been handed down through your family for generations.
Newspapers.com offers different methods for locating your ancestors, including searching, browsing by location and year, and browsing a specific newspaper. You can even take a look at clipping that other users are saving.
Searching by Name
Usually, the fastest and most productive search method is to enter your ancestor’s name and see what pops up. In addition to using a name, you can include keywords. One useful keyword might be the first name of their spouse or the name of the town where they lived.
Many times, this will pop up the results you want. But there are times when the search method might not work as well as you hope.
Possible issues include:
- Very common names
- Hard to spell names
- Many old newspapers used initials instead of first names
If you ancestor has a common name (such as John Smith), you will find a lot of articles about the wrong person. Don’t fear! There are ways of narrowing down your search results.
Newspapers.com offers two ways to narrow your search: by location, and by date. By entering the specific place you want to search, or by adding a time frame, you are more likely to find the articles you want.
If you’re still getting too many results, you can try searching for spouses, siblings, and children who might have less common given names.
If you’re having trouble finding articles, try alternate spellings for names, especially if your ancestor has an uncommon or hard to spell name. Be sure to try a few searches with initials instead of a given name, too.
If your ancestor lived in a small town or out in the country, be sure to check newspapers in nearby cities. Larger newspapers often included articles about people who lived for many miles around.
Browsing by Paper and Date
You can also browse to a specific location and date using Newspapers.com’s Browse feature.
The Browse feature is perfect if you already have a good idea of when and where you want to look. It lets you quickly drill down to a specific city, then newspaper, and even a specific date.
If you don’t know all that, enter what you do know, and then use the search box on just those papers.
For example, say that you want to find your ancestor when she lived in Kansas in 1887. By browsing to United States, then Kansas, and entering 1887 either in the search box, you can see all of the newspapers that Newspapers.com has for that state and year (in this case, 694 different newspapers!).
But now you can use the search feature to search only those newspapers, rather than all 8,700 papers in the collection.
Finding Specific Newspapers
Have you ever encountered a cryptic note on one of your ancestors saying “wonderful article in the Daily Chronicle,” but nothing more? Which Daily Chronicle? Where?
Your salvation is at hand. Newspapers.com’s third search feature lets you find newspapers by name. So even if you don’t know the exact location of the paper, you can narrow it down from thousands of possible newspapers to just a few.
For example, if you type “Daily Chronicle” into the Papers search box, you’ll come up with just nine results. Now it’s a simple matter of figuring out if any of them match where your ancestor lived.
Once you know the newspaper, you can dive in with the browse and search features to find the information you want.
You could transcribe all of the information you find by hand, but that takes forever and is prone to error. Fortunately, Newspapers.com offers a couple of different ways to save what you find.
One option is to save the entire page where you found the information. But then you would have to read through the whole page every time you wanted to recheck it.
The better option is to use the clipping feature. This lets you highlight just the portion of the page you want to keep. You can then print it out, save it to your computer, or both.
Anything you clip is also automatically added to the Clippings page for your Newspapers.com account.
If you have an online family tree on Ancestry.com, you even have the option of attaching that clip directly to your ancestor’s record in your tree, making it easy to find it again any time you want. Unfortunately, this feature only works with Ancestry.
Help and Support
Newspapers.com has a large collection of helpful articles on how to get started on their site, and how to get the most out of your searches.
They also have tutorial videos that take you step-by-step through the process.
If you still have problems, the site has an online support desk to help you out.
Newspapers.com’s blog hosts scores of articles about strange and amazing history found in the pages of newspapers. You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media sites.
Just for Fun
Old newspapers aren’t just for genealogy. You can easily spend hours browsing through old papers just for fun.
What were the headlines on your birthday? When your parents and grandparents were born? And how many times can you find yourself in the newspaper? It might be more than you think!
Another fun feature of Newspapers.com can be found on the Clippings page. You have the option to view not only the clippings you have made, but to view recent clippings made by other people, too. You might not find your ancestors there, but you can still find a lot of fun things to read.
Even better, by seeing what other people have dug up, it might give you ideas on more ways to find your own ancestors.
Newspapers.com and Ancestry.com
Newspapers.com began as an independent site but has since been acquired and incorporated into Ancestry.com. What does that mean for you?
First of all, Ancestry has its own digital newspaper archive which covers a lot of the basics, about 1,500 different newspapers. In fact, there is a lot of overlap with what Newspapers.com has to offer.
However, Newspapers.com has a much, much larger collection of digital images. It includes thousands of papers that are not part of Ancestry’s core collection. And it covers many more years and issues than Ancestry.
One of the big bonuses that has come out of the sites joining forces is that you can now link Clippings from Newspapers.com directly to your Ancestry.com family tree. No need to print, save, or file all of those articles you find, they’re already connected and you can pull them up again with the click of a button.
Ancestry.com’s All Access subscription package includes Newspapers.com’s Basic subscription, which gives you access to about a third of their collection. That’s already more than 100 million pages. But if you want full access to Newspapers.com, you will need a separate subscription.
There are two main ways to subscribe to Newspapers.com. Which is right for you depends on your needs.
The Basic package includes more than 100 million pages of historic newspapers. If you’re looking for articles and information about your ancestors up to around the 1960s, there’s a good chance you’ll find them in the Basic package.
If you are subscribed to Ancestry.com’s All Access plan, then you already have full access to Newspapers.com’s Basic package as well.
The Publisher Extra package contains all 400 million pages of newspapers. The main advantage of this package is researching more recent ancestors. If you’re looking for results from the 1960s onward, most of them are restricted to the Publisher Extra package. In many cases, this collection includes full print runs all the way up to 2018.
Try Before You Buy
Not sure if Newspapers.com is right for you? That’s fine because they offer a 7-day free trial. That should be plenty of time for you to dig around a bit, and to see if the places and years you need are covered or not.
You do need to enter your credit card information to claim the free trial, so be sure to cancel your subscription before the end of the trial if you decide not to continue.
While Newspapers.com has a ton to offer, it isn’t perfect, and it may not be right for you. Here are a few points to consider.
Many newspapers have been lost over time. Many more are still waiting to be digitized. That means you might not be able to find the newspapers you want or the years you want. But if you can’t find them at Newspapers.com, you probably can’t find them anywhere online.
Use the site’s Browse feature to find out what newspapers they have, and the years they cover. You can browse that far without having to sign up at all.
Some of the digital pages are dark, light, blurry, washed out, bent, or otherwise damaged. Unfortunately, that probably happened when the original microfilms were made, and in most cases, Newspapers.com digitizes microfilm rather than original newspapers.
Finally, unlike most sites we review, this site is not specifically intended for genealogy and family history. That means that the tutorials and help files focus just on the technical details of using the site, and not on genealogical research.
In the End
When it comes down to it, Newspapers.com is an amazing resource with a lot to offer any genealogist or family historian.
With more than 400 million pages already online and more being constantly added, finding many of your ancestors is almost guaranteed.
Take advantage of their 7-day free trial and check out Newspapers.com today.