If I had to rank the most important recent technological developments for genealogists, online newspapers would be somewhere near the top. You have the amazing ability to scour millions of newspaper articles for an ancestor’s name. And not just American titles: Newspapers from around the world, some dating back to the 18th century, are now online.
Most collections of foreign newspapers offer full-text searching, and many are free. Because few foreign newspapers are available to borrow on interlibrary loan, online access is a tremendous boon. These old pages might hold references to immigrant ancestors before they left home or stories about American relatives traveling abroad, serving in the military or doing missionary work. Our guide will show you where to find foreign newspapers online, offer guidance on searching and suggest tools for overcoming language barriers.
Search and find
The same search strategies you use for American newspaper archives work with foreign ones: Search on a last name or a full name. Put quotation marks around a name to find the exact phrase. Try different versions of the name, such as John H. Pennington, J. H. Pennington and John Hudson Pennington. To zero in on the most relevant matches, especially if you’re looking for a common name, add a keyword, such as a place, an occupation or other term associated with the person.
To make newspapers searchable, optical character recognition (OCR) software is used to convert page images to text. Where pages are faded or printing was poor, OCR can “misread” the words and mess up your searches. So if your search doesn’t turn up anything or the site doesn’t support full-text searching, try browsing the papers. For instance, if you have at least an approximate date and place of a marriage or death, peruse pages of papers published around that time for a marriage notice or an obituary.
Some overseas newspaper websites offer interfaces in more than one language. Look for a British flag you can click to access an English-language version. If there isn’t one, use Google’s Chrome
web browser. When you visit a foreign-language site, Google will ask you if you want to view a translated version; click Translate. (Or you might need to click a symbol shaped like two squares in the address bar to translate the page.) If the newspapers are in a foreign language, use search terms and place-name spellings in that language. Use Google Translate
for help translating foreign-language articles. If you need a better translation, you can ask for help on a message board such as those at Ancestry.com
Tip: If a newspaper site won’t let you download an article, take a screenshot. To find the Windows Snipping Tool, click Start, then All Programs, then Accessories. On a Mac, hit Shift+Command and use the crosshairs to select the article.
Several big websites you might already be familiar with have newspapers from multiple countries:
: Ancestry.com has newspapers from Canada and the British Isles, as well as the United States. Some are searchable text versions not linked to page images, including The Times of London (1788 to 1833); newspapers published in Winnipeg, Manitoba, between 1893 and 1977; and papers from Edinburgh, Scotland, between 1771 and 1829 and in 1909.
It’s the opposite situation with the collection Ireland, Newspapers, 1763-1890: It includes titles from what’s now the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, but you can’t search them—you have to browse page by page. Belfast Newsletter (Birth, Marriage and Death Notices), 1738-1925 has images of the pages plus a searchable index to birth, marriage and death notices from 1828 to 1858. The site plans to add notices from other years. The three matches for my McMorris relatives include a marriage notice for Sarah McMorris, daughter of John McMorris, to Robert Monteeth. A Presbyterian minister married them at Donagheady in 1844.
Ancestry.com’s main search form covers the searchable newspapers. But to search just newspapers, select All Collections from the Search tab, then look under Stories & Publications on the right and click on Newspapers.
: Launched in 2012 by Ancestry.com, this subscription site offers papers from the United States, Australia, Canada, Panama and the British Isles, including 16 Irish newspapers. You can search the full text of the papers and view images of the pages. A search for the name of my Welsh third-great-granduncle Evan Jones, who lived in London from 1808 to 1819, produces 84 matches from those years in the site’s British newspapers. The first two are my guy. The Times notices from 1813 tell how the belongings of the bankrupt Evan Jones, a draper on Drury Lane, would be sold and the proceeds divided among his creditors.
: The large collection of newspapers here is digitized and fully indexed. Once you select Newspapers & Periodicals from the Search tab, look on the left to choose from four collections. British newspapers include thousands of local and regional publications from England, Scotland and Wales. The large Irish collection consists of 100 papers from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. PERSI (the Periodical Source Index) references genealogical and historical periodicals from North America, Great Britain, Ireland and Australia. Some of these references are linked to articles. US & World newspapers include publications from the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and Jamaica.
My Morgan ancestors lived on a farm called Maestorglwyd (also written as Maesdorglwyd) in the parish of Llanigon, Breconshire, Wales. Instead of searching on Morgan, a common Welsh name, I searched on the more-unusual farm name. A keyword search of the British newspapers collection for Maestorglwyd produces no matches, but Maesdorglwyd turns up an 1852 article in the Hereford Times: a notice my third-great-granduncle William Morgan of Maesdorglwyd placed as executor of his brother-in-law Benjamin Jenkins’ will.
Google News Archive
: In addition to many digitized newspapers from the United States and Canada, Google includes a few titles from Latin America and Europe. To search, enter your terms in the box beside Google News and click on Search Archive. For example, to find articles about my Slipp relatives from New Brunswick, Canada, I searched on Slipp “New Brunswick.” That produces 22 results in American and Canadian newspapers, including some obituaries.
Looking for an obituary for Emma Elizabeth Harris, who died March 27, 1986, in Vancouver, British Columbia, I tried searching for the exact phrases “Emma Elizabeth Harris” and “Harris Emma.” This didn’t turn up an obituary, but a search on “Emma E. Harris” produced a match in a 1953 Spokane paper that reported she was secretary of the American Association of University Professors.
You can’t limit your search to a specific newspaper here. Google has stopped adding to or enhancing this collection, and searches seem less reliable than in other newspaper collections. If you have at least an approximate date, it’s worth browsing for an article. Google News Archive lists the dates each newspaper covers, but it doesn’t show where they were published. So if you can’t tell from the title, you might have to do some research to determine if the archive has a newspaper for the right city and time period. For a list of Canadian newspapers in the Google News Archive, see Canada Online Historical Newspapers
The Archive has several Vancouver newspapers and one of them, The Vancouver Sun, covers 1986. So I clicked on that title, then on the decade, 1980s, and the year, 1986. There were no issues from March, but I got lucky in the April 1 edition: Browsing through the pages, I found Emma’s obituary on image 25. Google News Archive doesn’t let you download articles, so I used the Windows Snipping Tool to save the obituary.
: This site has a sizable newspaper collection from all over the United States and four Canadian provinces, plus London and Dublin. It has some issues of Stars & Stripes, an American newspaper for military serving overseas. A subscription to the large genealogy site MyHeritage
includes access to NewspaperARCHIVE. MyHeritage also automatically searches NewspaperARCHIVE for articles that mention people in your family tree.
I wanted to find newspaper references to William Pennington who worked as master of ceremonies at formal balls held at the Hotwells in Bath and Clifton (near Bristol), England, in the late 18th century. Using NewspaperARCHIVE’s Advanced Search, I searched for the last name Pennington combined with the word Hotwells, ceremonies or Clifton. In my tests, NewspaperARCHIVE often produced irrelevant matches and error messages. Now and then it worked and my search on Pennington and Hotwells produced 27 mostly relevant matches. An ad in the Sept. 20, 1788, issue of The Bristol Journal describes a country mansion for rent, with a house “fit for the reception of a large, and genteel Family… Any Person desiring to see the Premises, may apply to Mr. Pennington, at the Hot Wells.”
ProQuest Historical Newspapers
: Available only through subscribing libraries, this collection offers 11 major English-language newspapers published in Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, China, Hong Kong, India and Israel. While all are nationwide, they feature many local news items. For example, I’m researching the Clark family of Ballinagh, County Cavan, Ireland. I ran advanced searches on both spellings of the town and the last name: Ballinagh AND (Clark OR Clarke) and Bellananagh AND (Clark OR Clarke). Although I didn’t find anything special on the Clark family, I came across articles about Ballinagh residents, including 19th-century reports of estate settlements and court cases. These newspaper accounts could be valuable substitutes for many lost Irish records.
As you can see in our chart, several other websites have newspaper archives from multiple countries. To find newspapers on the free HathiTrust site, first search on a country, such as England or Germany, then refine the results by Original Format to Newspaper. Compact Memory, Early Hebrew Newspapers and Historical Jewish Press have Jewish papers from various countries. Old Fulton New York Post Cards, known for its huge collection of New York newspapers, also has titles from other states, as well as Australia and Canada. To search newspaper archives from several countries at once, try Elephind
Some online newspaper archives focus their collections on a particular region or country, which can narrow searches and make results easier to wade through. Those include:
Canada: The dozen Canadian newspaper sites listed in our chart are all free. One, Peel’s Prairie Provinces, has newspapers from Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. My great-great-grandparents Jarvis A. and Elizabeth Grant settled along with most of their children and grandchildren at Lewisville, Alberta, in 1902.
That’s near the city of Wetaskiwin, so I limited my searches to The Wetaskiwin Times. A search on Grant AND Lewisville produced matches on nine articles, including obituaries and wedding notices pertaining to the family. Searching on “J. A. Grant” (in quotation marks to find the exact phrase) turned up his wife Elizabeth’s obituary from 1906.
Most of the sites listed in our PDF chart
let you search digitized newspapers and view images of the original pages. Daniel F. Johnson’s New Brunswick Newspaper Vital Statistics is different. It includes an index you can search and transcriptions of select articles, but no page images. The index has 640,994 names from birth, marriage and death notices and local news items in 76 newspapers published between 1784 and 1896. That makes this one of the most important resources for New Brunswick genealogy and a real gold mine for someone like me, who has a lot of ancestry in the area. John Slipp’s obituary in the Religious Intelligencer provides key details: It notes he was born in Hampstead on Aug. 24, 1785, and died in Cambridge on Sept. 16, 1860, of “dropsy in the chest.” He married Hannah Merritt in 1809, and they had 13 children, “six of whom have gone to the grave before him.” References in this database note if the original article provides more information.
Europe: Many newspapers published in continental Europe are online, some dating back to the 17th century. The Europeana Newspapers site has papers published in 16 languages from 18 countries.
Historic German Newspapers Online by Ernest Thode (Genealogical Publishing Co.) is a helpful guide to about 2,000 newspapers on dozens of websites. One section lists German-language newspapers by place of publication, including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Poland, the United States and others. Once you find a promising newspaper, refer to the alphabetical list of newspapers in the second half of the book for the website and dates covered. When looking for news from your ancestor’s hometown, Thode recommends you check at least three sources: the daily paper of the closest large city, the regional paper for the county seat, and the government paper for the area (such as Bavaria, Baden or Hesse).
Thode says Google Books’ German site is the most extensive digitizer of old German newspapers. Bound newspapers are digitized right along with books. In search results, look for matches with words that are common in newspaper titles, such as Zeitung (“newspaper”) and Blatt (“paper” or “page”). Another key site, ZEFYS (Zeitungsinformationssystem), has newspapers from Prussia, especially official gazettes, and from the former East Germany.
Until the end of World War II, most German-language newspapers were printed in Old Gothic type, called Fraktur.
Some of the letters are so similar, such as lower-case i and j, f and s, and m and w, that OCR often interprets them wrong. To catch those errors, you might try swapping the letters in your search terms or using wildcards. When it comes time to read the articles, use the alphabet chart in our German Genealogy Cheat Sheet
and see the examples on Brigham Young University’s website
Great Britain: Several large, mostly fee-based English, Scottish and Welsh newspaper collections are online. The Gazette, a free official public record, has published lists of bankruptcies, naturalizations and public notices for 350 years. Recent issues include many wills and probate notices.Welsh Newspapers Online, a free site from the National Library of Wales, has 1.1 million pages of newspapers. Searching on Maestorglwyd OR Maesdorglwyd, the name of the Morgan farm, I got four matches. One, from the Oct. 17, 1918, Radnor Express, is a notice of the marriage of William Morgan of Maestorglwyd to Gladys Jones. Descendants of the Morgan family still lived on the same farm almost 100 years after my ancestors left it.
Ireland: Irish Newspaper Archives, the largest online archive of Irish newspapers, provides access to 55 papers from all over Ireland and Northern Ireland dating back to 1738. Researching the Clarke family of the townland of Bellananagh, Kilmore parish, County Cavan, I started searching on just the name Clark and got 5,000 results. By default, the site found matches on Clark and Clarke. Then under Refine Search, I entered alternate spellings of the townland (Bellananagh Ballinagh Belinaa) in the box for Any of These Words and added a date range from 1800 to 1870. That narrowed the results to 71, including a Nov. 14, 1851, Freemans Journal death notice for William Clarke, who died at his residence at age 96.
In 2015, Ancestry.com launched the IrishNewspapers.com subscription website, which hosts 39 newspapers from Ireland and Northern Ireland dating from 1738 to 1980. Some of the papers here also are on Ancestry.com.
The Dublin Gazette was the official newspaper of Britain’s government in Ireland between 1705 and 1922. You can’t search it online, but the Dublin Gazette Wikipedia article
has links at the end to download issues of the publication as PDF files.
Latin America: Latin American Newspapers, Series 1 and 2, 1805-1922, a part of the Readex World Newspaper Archive, provides access to more than 280 newspapers published in Central America, South America and the Caribbean and written in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French.
My second-great-granduncle John H. Pennington lived in several Latin American countries. A search of this collection for Pennington produces 447 matches. I clicked on the Dates and Eras tab to limit results to 1888 to 1909 (starting about the time my relative began doing business there and ending with the year he died), reducing the matches to 107. That’s a more manageable number and captures references to John H. Pennington, J. H. Pennington, Mr. Pennington and Señor Pennington. Many of the other matches are ads for Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People, accompanied by a fulsome testimonial from a New Pennington, Ind., resident.
The 32 articles pertaining to John H. Pennington provide fascinating insight into his personal and business dealings. Several Panama newspapers report that the Colombian government awarded his company a contract to build 300 miles of railroad. Engineers were on site in May 1893. But the Sept. 7, 1893, La Estrella de Panamá observes that construction wasn’t going well. A later edition blames mismanagement. On Jan. 11, 1894, the same newspaper announces Pennington’s father-in-law transferred the railroad contract to another manager. An article from El Correo Nacional de Bogotá, reprinted in the March 5, 1894, Panama Star and Herald, reported John H. Pennington had fled after being charged with bigamy.
These newspapers reveal how Pennington viewed even a massive failure as a temporary setback on the road to riches. According to El Guatemalteco in February and March 1896, the Guatemalan government granted him tax concessions to build a grand hotel in Guatemala City. The four-story structure of stone and marble would feature modern hydrotherapeutic baths. Pennington was ready hire architects and building experts in New York, reports the April 2, 1896, La Estrella de Panamá. But the July 25 El Guatemalteco reports that the government withdrew the tax break after construction hadn’t started within the required five months.
After several years working in the Central American fruit trade, struggling to keep fruit fresh for American consumers, Pennington got an idea: banana flour. In September 1903, La Lucha of Havana reports that J. H. Pennington, president of the Tropical Fruit Co., had patented a process to make flour from bananas and had a small factory in Cuba. He invited reporters to sample banana-flour cookies, pancakes and other goodies. Here was a new way for Cuba to profit from its most bountiful fruit. But despite the initial hoopla, 1904 and 1905 articles in La Lucha suggest that sales never took off.
Now that the archives of many foreign newspapers are online, it’s time to search them for your ancestors’ stories of success and failure.
From the March/April 2016 Family Tree Magazine