Because of their bulky size, perceived tendency for rapid deterioration, and the scarcity of copies for early issues, old newspapers can now primarily be found on microfilm. Luckily for genealogists, many of these microfilmed newspapers are easily obtained for research through interlibrary loan. More and more newspapers are also being digitized and placed online
The first step to locating your ancestors in historical newspapers is to identify the newspapers that served the area and time period of interest, and then determine which of those have survived and where they can be accessed.
- The U.S. Newspaper Program, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a national effort to locate, catalog, and microfilm newspapers published in the United States from the eighteenth century to the present. The national database is maintained by the Online Computer Library Center and can be accessed through the free FirstSearch service at thousands of participating libraries across the U.S. All newspapers microfilmed through this project are available through interlibrary loan.
- Check with the local public library or academic library in the town where the event happened to see if they serve as a depository for local newspapers.
- The Library of Congress maintains one of the most extensive newspaper collections in the world with over 9,000 U.S. newspaper titles and 25,000 non-US newspaper titles.
- The Family History Center in Salt Lake City has thousands of microfilmed newspapers from around the world which can be ordered through your local Family History Center. Search the Family History Library Catalog for your ancestor's location to find what newspapers and other records have been microfilmed.
- Write to the local newspaper office to see if they maintain a library of their back issues.
- Historical and genealogical societies often have newspaper resources for their immediate area or will known where such resources are maintained.
- Many U.S. state archives and libraries serve as depositories for microfilms of newspapers from across the state.
- ProQuest has digitized over 16 million newspaper pages, including a full run of The New York Times (1851-2001), the Los Angeles Times (1881-1984), and the Chicago Tribune (1849-1984).
While newspapers can provide a treasure trove of information for genealogists, it is important to understand their limitations. Inaccuracies and biased reporting, for example, may affect the quality of the provided information. As with all genealogy research you must use sound judgement and evaluate the information against that provided by other genealogical sources. If you plan to use newspaper items as evidence to support sound genealogical conclusions, it is also important to carefully record the title of the newspaper, its place of publication, the date of issue, and the page number.
Routinely using old newspapers in your genealogy research will not only provide possible clues to your ancestors, but also the rare opportunity to understand the times and community in which your ancestors lived. Dig into newspapers today and you won't be disappointed!