Search the Presses

By Nancy Hendrickson Premium

Your ancestors didn’t have to be headlines for you to find value in’s Historical Newspaper Collection < >. Boasting more than 3 million pages from newspapers across the United States (plus two papers from England and one from Canada), this collection is one of the largest of its kind — and growing. By year’s end, about 10 million pages from newspapers dating as far back as the 1700s will be online. Most of the collection’s newspaper titles are American, also has digitized pages from Canada’s Manitoba Daily Free Press, plus London’s Daily Universal Register and The Times (other Canadian and British titles will be added soon). You can search the entire collection or specific newspapers by entering a combination of terms in the name, location, date and keyword search boxes. Keep in mind that the number of digitized newspapers for each locale varies. For example, Ohio has more than 40 titles online, whereas a few states, such as Oregon, haven’t entered the system yet.

Because the newspaper pages are displayed as images, they’re searched using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology. The system searches for text that is optically similar to your keywords. OCR makes it possible to search millions of images, but it’s not as accurate as a text-based index. That means it may return results that differ from your search terms (although I didn’t encounter this problem).

The search box has several options you might not notice at first glance. The fields prompt users to enter first and last names, but you can enter any two words in those boxes, such as Kansas and City, or President and Lincoln. This strategy works because the system looks for instances where your search terms appear within one word of each other.

You also can conduct a keyword-date search without entering terms in the first- and last-name boxes. For example, if you want to read an account of the Battle of Gettysburg, enter Gettysburg as the keyword and set the date range for July 1863.

Once you’ve entered your search terms, the system will return a list of appropriate newspapers. Click on any title to go directly to an image of the newspaper page. Then, you can choose the basic or advanced view of the page. If you choose the advanced view, the system will download a small utility to your system (this is a one-time download). The advanced view allows you to move easily around the page, zoom in and out, move from page to page, save and print. It also highlights the section of the page that contains your search term.

The first time you use the collection, you’ll probably look for your ancestors’ names. But even if you don’t find specific mention of a family member, you’ll certainly locate period news about politics, world events, crime, inventions and local scandals. The collection is a valuable tool for understanding the culture of the day. For example, if you think current political commentary is harsh, wait until you read a letter to the editor saying anti-Civil War demonstrators’ “livers are torpid, imaginations corrupt, and hearts depraved.”

The Historical Newspaper Collection subscription costs $79.95 annually or $29.95 quarterly. subscribers can add the annual subscription for $39.95.

From the August 2003 Family Tree Magazine.