12 April 2012

Best newspaper resources for genealogy

The first newspaper in Colonial America was Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, published in Boston on 25 September 1690. After one issue, the government ordered the paper to be suppressed and all copies destroyed. From that point on, all such printed materials required a license. The second newspaper, The Boston News-Letter, started publication in 1704 and successfully ran for 74 years. Unlike one-page broadsides, these newspapers typically consisted of four pages and offered local and British news, events, and advertisements. 

Newspapers are a treasure trove for genealogists. We search them mainly for birth notices, wedding announcements, and obituaries. But they’re also useful for mentioning tidbits such as a distant relative visiting family in town; participation in local society events; accidents and injuries; local political news; shipping news; society pages; opinion pieces and letters to the editor; and much more. Plus, advertisements and legal notices may concern our ancestors’ businesses, property, and estate affairs.

Newspapers are historical snapshots worth saving. In fact, the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) and the Library of Congress have funded the United States Newspaper Program to collect and preserve newspapers from all 50 states. Visit the site to find out which newspapers have been microfilmed.

In addition to print, most newspapers today have an online version available. Like the print edition, online newspapers often are divided into sections (local, national, world news; business, finance; sports; arts & entertainment, etc.). The bonus with the online version, however, is the search engine—and access to earlier editions. 

Local Access

The Boston Globe has a subscription-only site as well as a free site, with many stories being archived (and available for a fee) after the first month of publication. Through my local library, I can access Proquest’s Historical Newspapers: Boston Globe 1872-1979 and Massachusetts Newsstand: Boston Globe 1980 to current.

Check with your local public library to see if it offers in-library or home access to newspaper collections. My local library offers free home access to the back issues of my local newspaper, Gale newspaper collections,  the Boston Globe, and the New York Times. When I was doing research for my neighbor, for example, I learned I had access to the Lowell Sun from 2004 to current through my local library. After that, I needed to visit the Pollard Public Library in Lowell, Massachusetts, for library-access-only of The Sun online 1879-1977 and on microfilm.  

Newspaper Web Sites

Before subscribing to commercial web sites for newspaper access, check to see if the site covers the regions, newspaper titles, and publication dates you need.

19th Century U.S. Newspapers: 1.7 million pages from hundreds of newspapers. (Available through New England Historic Genealogical Society and Godfrey Memorial Library memberships; free at FamilySearch Centers.)

Ancestry.com: Ancestry has so many different kinds of records. You need to “Search all records,” type in person’s first and last name, then narrow your search by category to get at “Newspapers & Publications.” You also can use the Card Catalog to search Newspapers & Publications by title or keyword and filter by location and/or date. Ancestry also has the United States Obituary Collection and Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, and Death Announcements 1851-2003 that collect stories from eight major U.S. newspapers. (Subscription.)

Chronicling America: Search select U.S. newspapers from 1836 to 1922. (Free.)

Early American Newspapers, Series 1, 1690-1876: More than one million pages. (Available onsite at New England Historic Genealogical Society and Godfrey Memorial Library.)

FamilySearch: You can use a filter to find obituary collections, pick the area of interest, and search from there. You also can create, preserve, and share an obituary for a loved one or search what others have written. (Free.)

Findmypast: Collection includes U.S., Canadian, British, Irish, and World (China, Denmark, France, Germany, South Africa, Jamaica, Virgin Islands, Panama) newspapers and PERiodical Source Index (with some links to full articles) as well family history records. (Subscription or pay-as-you-go plan.)

Fold3: Mostly a military web site, but includes some newspapers. (Subscription, some free material.)

GenealogyBank: Between Historical Newspapers 1690-2007 and Newspaper Obituaries 1977 to Present, GenealogyBank offers 5,850-plus different newspaper titles. (Subscription.)

Google News is free to search, with sometimes a fee to view an article.

Legacy has recent obituaries from newspapers and funeral homes nationwide on its site. It also is the power behind the search engine for many newspaper obituary collections. Recent obituaries and guest books are free; archived ones cost a nominal fee. Legacy also branched out into public notices and celebrations (such as weddings).

Newspaper Archive: Billed as “the world’s largest online newspaper archive.” (Subscription.)

Newspapers.com3,500 newspapers from the 1700s to 2000s”; owned by Ancestry.com. (Subscription.)

New York Times Archive: For 1851-1923 and 1987-present, you can view up to 20 articles a month, but for 1924-1986, you pay per article. Check to see if your local library has access. 

Paper of Record: Canadian, U.S., and other countries. (Subscription.)

ProQuest Archiver: 130 newspapers from U.S., Canada, U.K., and Israel. Check to see if your local library has access; if not, pay by article or with a 24-hour pass.

Small Town Papers Collection offers Google search and browsing by issue for 45 states from 1865 to present. (Free.)

WorldVitalRecords contains two newspaper collections: Newspaper Archive and Small Town Papers Collection. (Subscription.)

Special Projects

Historians, libraries, and genealogists have created special newspaper collections—and some are offering online access. The Center for Lowell History has indexes to birth, marriage and death notices published in Lowell, Massachusetts, newspapers since 1865. The Boston Public Library has an index for obituaries that appeared in the Boston Globe and Boston Herald, currently available from 1953 to 2010. The Brooklyn Public Library in New York has digitized 147,000 pages of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, making the years 1841 to 1902 searchable by date or keywords.

Individuals and groups have abstracted or compiled newspaper clippings and obituaries. Some of the notable ones can be found on Newspaper Abstracts: Finding Our Ancestors in the News, the Olden Times: Historic Newspapers Online, and an index at Obituary Daily Times. You also may find obituaries and other newspaper clippings on county pages or in the archives of the USGenWeb project or on genealogy-specific message boards.


  1. Only just found your blog, shared by Diane Boumenot on G+. Great article here, Robin.

  2. Over the years, I have collected a lot of old magazines & newspapers. I recently started scanning information that would help people in their genealogy research (weddings, obits, etc). I also post random things that people might like, sometimes just fun pictures from the past. I try to put names in the body of the post so the search engines will pick them up if someone is doing a search. I hope it helps someone, provides some missing information, or someone finds a fun picture of a relative that they didn't know existed. https://art2encourage.blogspot.com/

  3. That's a great project, Julianne! Keep up the good work.