Before you can use these shortcuts to finding your ancestors in print, of course, you need to track down the name of their hometown paper, its publication dates and a repository that has back issues.
First, contact the local library or historical society, which probably holds microfilm of area newspapers. (Find library contact information using LibDex <www.libdex.com>.) It may even have an index to headlines and vital-event announcements. If not, see if you can request a search and order copies of relevant articles.
Still no luck? Try a Google <google.com> search of the town name and newspaper. Or see <www.ipl.org/div/news> for names of still-in-print publications by city. You also can consult the Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media, found in most libraries’ reference sections. It’s arranged by state, then town, and tells you when a newspaper began and how to contact the publisher (so you can ask where to get back issues).
For out-of-print papers, try Clarence Brigham’s A History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820, and Winifred Gregory’s American Newspapers, 1821-1936. The US Newspaper Program <www.neh.gov/projects/usnp.html>, an effort to locate, catalog and microfilm historical newspapers, has an online list of state projects and links to repositories with microfilm collections.
Large public and university libraries often hold multiple cities’ papers, and some repositories focus on particular types of publications. The University of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center, for example, has the country’s best collection of foreign and ethnic newspapers <www.ihrc.umn.edu/research/periodicals.html>; click on your ethnic group of interest for a list. The Library of Congress has a large newspaper collection; see its holdings at <loc.gov/rr/news>.
If you don’t live near the library with the film you need, you may be able to borrow it through interlibrary loan to view at your own library (check with your librarian).