Google News Archive offers a wealth of digitized historic newspapers online - many of them for free. A simple search of the archive, however, will generally fail when searching by name for everything ranging from obituaries to marriage announcements due to imprecise OCR and poor digital scanning. 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. In many cases only MAJOR headlines are searchable. In addition, Google News has continued to deprecate this service, and has made it almost impossible to search for content prior to 1970, although they have hundreds of digitized newspaper titles prior to this date. Thankfully, the newspapers digitized under this program do still exist online.
You can improve your chances of finding great info on your family in Google News Archive with a few simple search strategies...
Use Google Web Search, Not Google NewsSearching within Google News (even the advanced search) no longer shows results older than 30 days, so be sure to use web search when searching for older articles. However, Google Web Search doesn’t support custom date ranges earlier than 1970 or content behind a paywall so researchers continue to lose functionality there as well. That doesn't mean you won't find content prior to 1970 by searching (you will!), you just can't restrict your searches to only that content.
Check Out What's Available Before You Waste Your Time SearchingA full list of the digitized historical newspaper content available on Google can be accessed at http://news.google.com/newspapers. It generally pays to start here to see if your area and time period has coverage, although if you're looking for something interesting or potentially newsworthy (a railroad accident, for example) you may find it also reported in papers from outside the area.
Source RestrictWe usually begin any search for ancestors in a specific location, but Google no longer offers the option to restrict your search to a particular newspaper title. Each newspaper does have a specific newspaper ID (found after "nid" in the URL when you select the title from the newspaper list), but the site search restriction to a particular paper (i.e. site:news.google.com/newspapers?nid=gL9scSG3K_gC ignores the "nid" and returns results from all newspapers). However, you can try using a newspaper title in quote, or use just a single word from the title of the paper to restrict your search - thus a source restriction for "Pittsburgh" or "Pittsburg" will turn up results from both the Pittsburgh Press and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Date RestrictGoogle News only returns content from the past 30 days. If you want to search older content you can use the Google advanced web search page to restrict your search by date or date range, but what's not obvious is that it will no longer search for custom date ranges older than 1970. However, you can get around this by using Google's site search feature and including the year or date of interest as a search term. This isn't precise, as it will include any mention of that date or year and not just papers published on the date you've selected, but it is better than nothing.
- Example: site:news.google.com/newspapers pittsburg 1898
Use Generic or Period Search Terms Instead of NamesBrowse 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.
Browse This PaperFor best results when searching digitized historical newspaper content in Google, there really is no way around using the browse feature rather than search. All things considered, it's still better than having to go down to the library to look at microfilm --- especially if the library which holds the newspaper is halfway across the country! Begin with the newspaper list to browse directly to a specific newspaper title in the Google News Archive. Once you select a title of interest, you can easily navigate to a specific date using the arrows or, even faster, by entering the date in the date box (this can be a year, month and year, or a specific date). When you're in the newspaper view, you can get back to the "browse" page by selecting the "Browse this newspaper" link above the digitized newspaper image.
Missing Issue? Not Always....If Google appears to have newspapers from your month of interest, but is missing a few particular issues here or there, then take time to view all pages of the available issues both before and after your target date. There are many examples of Google running together several newspaper issues and then listing them only under the date of the first or last issue, so you can be browsing an issue for Monday, but end up in the middle of the Wednesday edition by the time you browse all of the available pages.
Downloading, Saving & Printing from Google News ArchiveGoogle 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.
- Enlarge your browser window with the relevant page/article from Google News Archive so that it fills your entire computer screen.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- If you're running Windows Vista, 7 or 8, make it easier on yourself and use the Snipping Tool instead!