Save yourself hours of scrolling newspaper microfilm: Now you can go online to search more historical papers than ever -- and get family stories in seconds.
Newspapers open up a window into your ancestors' lives. Of course, they're a valuable source for birth, marriage and death dates, but the biographical details in newspapers can turn your family history from a collection of dry facts into a unique tale of struggles and triumphs. A 1904 Oakes Republican gossip column recounted how my North Dakota great-grandparents celebrated Independence Day by treating friends and neighbors to a picnic:
Mr. Olmstead ... provided a swing, hammock, croquet set and the boys played a game of ball so everyone had a good time in the cool shade of the trees. An excellent dinner was served including lemonade, ice cream and fruit to which all did justice. Mr. Olmstead and wife did everything for the entertainment of the crowd and all spent a very enjoyable day.
It's easier than ever to find such writeups on your kin now that many old papers are online. After microfilmed newspapers are digitized to create an image of each page, the images are run through OCR (optical character recognition) software to generate a text file of the articles. Then all that text is indexed so you can search for a word anywhere in millions of pages at once. Once you find a match, you can view the article on the newspaper page.
The free and fee-based sites here hold the web's largest newspaper collections. We'll give you tips for using them and info on their fees, size and coverage. Let's get started finding your ancestors' exciting stories.