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Search Tips for Google News Archive

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Google News Archive offers a wealth of digitized historic newspapers online - many of them for free. A simple search of the archive, however, will often fail when searching by name for everything ranging from obituaries to marriage annoucements because the optical character recognition used in the digital scanning process is less than exact. Surnames are often mangled to the point you won't even recognized them, and sometimes even simple words such as "marriage" or "died" are not to be found.

You can improve your chances of finding great info on your family in Google News Archive with a few simple search tips.

Source Restrict

Generally you're going to be looking for your ancestors in a specific location, so start by using the advanced archive search page to restrict your search to a particular source (i.e. newspaper). Google News Archive does not make a list of included sources available, but you can start by trying a simple search for your city, state or country of interest to see what newspapers are available for your time period of interest. You can even use just a single word from the title of the paper to restrict your search - thus a source restriction for "Pittsburgh" will turn up results from both the Pittsburgh Press and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


Date Restrict

Another great option available on the Google News advanced archive search page is the ability to restrict your search by date or date range. While they do have millions of historical newspaper pages available, the bulk of their content is from the last decade or so.
  • Select a range of years that covers your ancestor's lifetime (e.g. 1856-1929).
  • Limit the search for a specific event notice (such as an obituary/death notice) with a small date range (e.g. 4/13/1856 - 4/20/1856) in month/date/year format.

Generic Search Terms Instead of Names

Browse through several issues of your newspaper of interest to become familiar with the general layout of the paper and the terms used most often in your sections of interest. For example, if you're looking for an obituary, did they commonly use the term "obituaries," or "deaths" or "death notices," etc. to head that section? Sometimes section headers were too fancy to be recognized by the OCR (optical character recognition) process, however, so also look for words frequently found in the general text. Did they most often use the term "wedding," "wed," or "married," when writing about weddings, for example? Then use that search term to look for content, while also restricting your search by source and date, as appropriate.
source: pittsburgh
date: 4/13/1888 - 4/20/1888
search term: deaths

Don't Use a Search Term At All

If you're having trouble locating something such as a report of a fatal accident or a marriage notice that you're pretty sure should be in the paper, search with a date or small date range, limit the source to your newspaper of interest, and include nothing in the keyword/search term box. Then select any newspaper result from your date of interest and start browsing. (see next tip).

Browse This Paper

Taking things further from the previous tip, once you find a digitized back issue from the Google news archives, you can browse that newspaper directly on Google by either using the arrows to page back and forth through the specific issue, or by selecting the "browse this paper" link directly above the digitized page to see other available editions of that paper. This feature currently works only for the digitized papers (some of their newspaper results, especially the more recent ones, are in text format only). If you used a generic search term such as "died" to locate the newspaper result, you'll see that term highlighted on the small digital pages as you browse through a specific edition via the "back" and "next" arrows - making it easier to see which pages you need to zoom in on to explore further.

The search features available from Google News Archive are nice, but nowhere near 100% accurate in terms of results. For best results in locating your ancestors, select an event that is likely to have appeared in the newspaper (such as a death notice) and then restrict your search by source and date to find available editions of the newspaper that most likely would have covered the event. Then browse page by page for your ancestor, just as you would if you were using newspaper microfilms at the library. I have found dozens of news articles, obituaries, marriage announcements, etc. for ancestors in this manner, articles that did not show up with searches by name, location, keyword, etc.

Downloading, Saving & Printing from Google News Archive

Google News Archive does not currently offer a direct way to download, save or print newspaper images. If you want to clip an obituary or other small notice for your personal files, the easiest way to do this is to take a screen shot.
  1. Enlarge your browser window with the relevant page/article from Google News Archive so that it fills your entire computer screen.

  2. Use the enlarge button in Google News Archive to enlarge the article you want to clip to an easy to read size that fits entirely within your browser window.

  3. Hit the "Print Screen" or "Prnt Scrn" button on your computer keyboard. For help with this, see these How to Capture a Screen Shot tutorials for Windows and Mac OS X.

  4. Open your favorite photo editing software and look for the option to open or paste a file from your computer's clipboard. This will open the screenshot taken of your computer browser window.

  5. Use the "crop" tool to crop the article in which you're interested and then save it as a new file (I usually include the newspaper title and date in the file name).

  6. If you're running Windows Vista or Windows 7, make it easier on yourself and use the Snipping Tool instead!

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