1. Parenting
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

Search Tips & Researcher's Guide

By

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

Chronicling America website, Library of Congress

Almost 7 million digitized historic American newspapers are available for online research through Chronicling America, a free website of the U.S. Library of Congress. But while the simple search box can return a lot of interesting results, learning how to make good use of the site's advanced search and browse features will uncover articles you've might otherwise have missed.

What is Available in Chronicling America?

The National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP), a program funded by the National Endowment for the Humanties (NEH), awards money to public newspaper archives in each state to digitize and deliver historic newspaper content to the Library of Congress for inclusion in Chronicling America. As of October 2013, Chronicling America includes content from participating repositories in 35 states, with Connecticut scheduled to join the program and start contributing content over the next year. The Library of Congress also contributes digitized content from Washington, DC (1836–1922). Available newspaper content and time periods vary by state, but additional papers and states are being added on a regular basis. The collection includes papers from 1836 through 1922; newspapers published after December 31, 1922, are not included due to copyright restrictions.

Main features of the Chronicling America website, all available from the home page, include:

  1. Digitized Newspaper Search - A tabbed search bar includes a Simple Search box, plus access to Advanced Search and a browsable listing of All Digitized Newspapers 1836–1922.

  2. U.S. Newspaper Directory, 1690–present - This searchable database provides information on over 150,000 different newspaper titles published in the United States since 1690. Browse by title, or use the search features to search for newspapers published in a particular time period, locality, or language. Keyword search is also available.

  3. 100 Years Ago Today - Ever wonder about the digitized newspaper pages that appear on the Chronicling America home page? They aren't just static. They represent a selection of newspapers that were published exactly 100 years prior to the current date. Maybe some light, alternate reading if you're trying to kick a Facebook habit?

  4. Recommended Topics - This link in the left-hand navigation bar takes you a collection of subject guides that showcase topics widely reported upon by the American press between 1836 and 1922, including important people, events and even fads. For each topic, a brief summary, timeline, suggested search terms and strategies, and sample articles are provided. The topic page for the Homestead Strike of 1892, for example, suggests searching for key words such as Homestead, Carnegie, Frick, Amalgamated Association, strike, Pinkerton, and wage scale.

Digitized newspapers in Chronicling America provide online access to a wide range of historical content. Not only will you find marriage announcements and death notices, but you can also read contemporary articles that were published as events happened, and learn what was important in the area and time where your ancestors lived through advertisements, editorial and social columns, etc.

Tips for Finding & Using Content on Chronicling America

Chronicling America was designed not only to preserve historic newspapers through digitization, but also to encourage their use by researchers in a wide variety of arenas. To that end it offers several powerful tools and services for reading, searching, mining and citing historic newspapers. Search features include:

Search Pages (Simple Search) - A simple search box on the Chronicling America homepage allows you to enter your search terms and then choose "All States" or a single state for quick and easy searching. You can also use this box to add quotation marks for "phrase searching" and booleans such as AND, OR, and NOT.

Advanced Search - Click on the Advanced Search tab for more ways to limit your search, not only to a specific state or year range, but also by the following:

  • Select States(s): select one or more states (use CTRL + left-click to highlight more than one state)
  • Select Newspaper(s): select one or more newspapers (use CTRL + left-click to highlight more than one paper title)
  • Date Range: input MM/DD/YYYY to limit results to specific day, month, etc.
  • Limit Search: select to view results from only the front pages or a specific page number
  • Language: select an option from the drop-down box.
Powerful limiters also help you to refine your search:
  • with any of the words
  • with all of the words
  • with the phrase - search for place names, people names, street names, or specific phrases such as "death notices."
  • proximity search – Search for words within 5, 10, 50 or 100 words of one another. The 5 word search is good to find first and last names that may be separated by a middle name or initial. Use 10 words or 50 words to find related family names within the context of a particular obituary or news article.

Use Period Search Terms When selecting search terms for research in Chronicling America or other sources of historic newspapers, be aware of historical vocabulary differences. The words we might use today to describe places, events, or people of the past, are not necessarily the same as those used by newspaper reporters of the time. Search for place names as they were known at your time of interest such as Indian Territory instead of Oklahoma, or Siam instead of Thailand. Event names have also changed with time, such as the Great War instead of World War One (they didn't yet know WWII was coming, after all). Other examples of period usage include filling station for gas station, suffrage instead of voting rights, and Afro American or Negro instead of African American. If you aren't sure what terms were contemporary to the time, then browse a few newspapers or related articles from the time period for ideas. Some seemingly period terms such as War of Northern Aggression to refer to the U.S. Civil War, for example, are in reality a much more current phenomenon.

Visit Participating State Digital Newspaper Program Websites
Most states participating in the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) maintain their own websites, some of which provide alternate access to the digitized newspaper pages. You may also find background information and search tips specific to that state's specific newspaper collections, tools such as timelines or topic guides which provide alternate access to selected content, and blogs with updates on new content. A historical timeline and flipbook on the website of the South Carolina Digital Newspaper Program website, for example, provide an interesting contemporary look at the Civil War in South Carolina as it appeared in newspapers of the time. The Ohio Digital Newspaper Program has put together a handy Using Chronicling America Podcast Series. View the list of NDNP award recipients, or search Google for [state name] "digital newspaper program" to find the website for your state's program.

Using Content from Chronicling America
If you plan to use the content from Chronicling America in your own research or writing, you'll find that their Rights and Reproductions policy is fairly unrestrictive, both because it is government-created, and because it restricts newspapers to those created before 1923 which removes the issue of copyright restrictions. Copyright-free doesn't mean that you don't need to provide credit, however! Each newspaper page on Chronicling America includes a persistent link URL and citation information underneath the digitized image.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.