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Newspapers report details on the major events in our lives—births, marriages, graduations, anniversaries, deaths. They also chronicle local events, business and sports, crimes and gossip. Few sources provide better insight into our ancestors’ lives. Websites now make it easy to search through millions of old newspaper pages at once.
has one of the largest collections of digitized US newspapers: more than 6,500 titles from all 50 states, dating from 1690 to the present. They’re in two collections: Newspaper Archives 1690-Today (the site’s Quick Links for Obituaries, Birth Records, etc., let you search published notices from this collection) and Recent Newspaper Obituaries 1977-Today.
Another collection, Historical Documents, has the American State Papers and the US Serial Set, both of which you can search for free on the Library of Congress website
. Historical Books is a small collection, made up mostly of funeral sermons and vintage advertisements. The Social Security Death Index covers primarily deaths from 1962 to the present; it’s free here and on other sites, such as FamilySearch
These search techniques will help you find articles and records mentioning your relatives:
Start with a name. The search form at the top of GenealogyBank’s home page lets you search all of its collections at once, or scroll down to select a specific collection. You might search on just a last name if it’s unusual, or add a first name if it’s common. You’ll get a match whenever the terms you enter in the Last Name and First Name boxes appear within two words of each other in an article. This proximity search finds the names whether or not they’re separated by a middle name or initial. To see the results, click the Search Now button and select a collection (if you have matches in more than one).
Try adding a middle name or initial, and searching with first and middle initials, such as J. H. Pennington. To search on more than one variation of a first or last name at a time, separate them by OR: John OR Jonathan.
Optionally, add a range of years, such as 1880 to 1910 or July 1880 to January 1910. Or select Date and enter a year, such as 1880, or a specific date, such as July 4, 1880.
Add keywords. Click Advanced search for options to add keywords to focus your search. In this box, try searching for a person’s first and last names as a phrase surrounded by quotation marks: “John Pennington.” Also think of terms closely associated with your target person, such as an occupation, a place name or a spouse’s name. John H. Pennington, for example, was involved in building railroads in Latin America, and I’ve found articles about him by searching on his last name plus his company name, “South American Transportation” (in quotation marks so it appears as a phrase in matches), and places where he lived, such as Bogota, Colombia and “South America.” John’s scandalous personal life made headlines, too. Searching on his last name with bigamy OR divorce in the keyword box turns up several articles detailing his marriages and an affair with a married woman.
Narrow the scope. Click Newspaper Archives on the home page for a search form (shown) that lets you drill down to search within a specific place or newspaper title. Scroll to the bottom of your search results page to the Refine Your Search box. To limit your newspaper search to one or more states where your ancestors lived, check the boxes beside the states’ names, then click Begin Search.
(Click to see a larger image in a new window.)
Click the state name to see which of its cities’ papers are on GenealogyBank. On the resulting page, you can further narrow your search by checking one or more boxes by cities’ names. (You can’t narrow to cities from more than one state.) Click on the city name and you’ll jump to a similar setup listing newspapers from that city. Finally, click on a newspaper’s name to search just that publication. Here you can also check dates of GenealogyBank’s coverage for that title. You also can search a specific paper, or all papers from a state, by clicking Newspaper Titles on the home page.
To search GenealogyBank’s African-American or Irish American newspapers separately, click Newspaper Archives on the home page, then look for links to these collections on the left under Other Genealogy Records. Here, you’ll also find links to just search Historical Obituaries, Birth Records, Marriage Records and more.
Power User Tips
- Use search wildcards. Use * to match up to five characters in a name and ? for one character. Rob*son finds Robertson, Robson and Robinson. Rob?son finds Robison and Robeson, but not Robson or Robinson.
- Use proximity searching in the keywords box. For example, if you type military NEAR/5 service, you’ll get matches with military and service within five words of each other, in any order.
- See only new content. The Newspaper Archives collection search form has a dropdown box that lets you search only content added since a specified month. This is a quick way to check for anything added since your last visit, while skipping matches you’ve seen.
- Browse the matches. By default, the most relevant matches are listed first. You can re-sort them by date of publication using a dropdown menu above your results.
- Find the article you need. Your search terms are highlighted in the newspaper. To search for a word in the article, enter it in the box and click the find button.
- Print or save the article. If you click the PDF button to save the article as a PDF file, it won’t include a citation. Click on Print for a printer-friendly version. Then you can print it or right-click on the image and select Save Image As to save it as a graphical image file on your computer with a source citation.
From the March/April 2015 Family Tree Magazine