04 April 2014

The Best Newspaper Site For You

"Which subscription newspaper site is the best?"
"Which newspaper site is the best for obituaries?"

These questions are asked weekly on genealogy message boards and Facebook pages. The answer? The site that has the newspapers you want.
Newspapers that have been digitized are scattered all over the web. Here are just a few:
Ancestry.com's Newspaper Collections
Chronicling America
Google News Archive
Some are free, some require a paid subscription. Are the paid sites better than the free ones? Only if they have the newspapers you want. (Sensing a theme yet?)
The largest online newspaper collection won't do you any good if they don't have anything for the branch of your family you're working on. Your brick wall may come tumbling down because of a small site that hasn't been updated since 1998 and has a dozen pages from an old newspaper on it. Does that make it the best newspaper site? No. That makes it the best newspaper site for you.
For the subscription sites you don't have to pay to find out if they have what you need. The same goes for genealogy research sites in general. These companies do not want unhappy customers which is why their card catalogs are free and not behind the pay wall. If they have what you need you will subscribe and most likely find something useful. If they don't have collections that apply to the places and time periods you're researching you can walk away. 
Many card catalogs for newspaper sites are organized by state. Of course you can't just assume that because they have a number of newspapers for your state that your ancestors will be in them. A site may have 20 papers for Texas but if they're all from the Houston area and your family was in Amarillo they won't be much help. (Houston and Amarillo are over 700 miles apart.)
Be sure to check the dates of the papers included in the collection. If your ancestors moved to the area in 1912 and the paper you need only goes up to 1910 on a particular site then you'll need to look elsewhere. On the other hand, if your ancestor left in 1910 and the collection starts in 1912 it might be worth checking. A retired teacher who moved to another state to be closer to her siblings might have an obituary in the town paper where she taught.
If your ancestor was involved in a newsworthy event, e.g. a murder, a weather catastrophe, or a scientific discovery, it may have been covered outside of their county or even outside of their state. In that case it might be worth subscribing to every newspaper site you can find for a month or a year each. In my tree I have a newspaper article from San Antonio, Texas for a murder in Pineville, Kentucky. I also have an article from a paper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for a deadly tornado that happened in Melissa, Texas. The former was found on Ancestry.com, the latter on GenealogyBank.
If you're on a tight budget keep a list of items to look for in papers. Maybe start a spreadsheet with the names, places, dates and notes on what to look for, e.g. obituary, marriage announcement, crime. Also note death certificates with causes of death that might warrant a newspaper article, e.g. "gunshot", "injuries from an accident" or "struck by lightning."
Once you've searched the card catalog or had a subscription and cancelled don't cross the site off your research list. More newspapers are being added to most of these sites every month. Some of the subscription sites will send monthly emails with details about newly acquired collections.
All that said, the number of newspapers not digitized is far greater. What you are looking for may not be online in your lifetime. You do not, however, need to spend your children's inheritance on plane tickets and road trips. Unless you want to, of course. A little online research can help you find alternatives. Just a couple of examples:
1. In their research services the Minnesota Historical Society offers obituary and other newspaper article look-ups for a small fee.
2. The Public Libraries of Saginaw (Michigan) has an online obituary index and will mail copies of obituaries if you are out of state. The service is free but a donation is always good for your research karma.
Check your local library to see what newspaper databases they have access to and here's a list [the 3rd green box] of subscription sites that are available for free at Family History Centers.
In some cases finding a the newspaper you want may involve a bit of serendipity. I took a road trip to visit the cemetery where my 3rd great-grandparents were buried. While I was there I stopped at the local library. They had a few random issues of the local paper on microfilm. One included my 4th great-grandmother's obituary and also had an advertisement for my 3rd great-grandfather's shop.
If you need to go completely old school and are looking for newspapers from 1821 to 1936 try to find a copy of THIS. At the link enter your zip code to see if there's a copy at a library near you. It is a list of every paper published that had copies existing in 1937 and where to find them. You'll still have phone calls to make and/or emails to send to find out if they still exist but it's a start.

Newspapers for Genealogy Research, a YouTube playlist of tutorials
Newspapers!, links galore from Kenneth Marks
Elephind, a search engine for world's historical newspaper archives
Newspaper category on Cyndi's List
Newspaper Archives, Indexes & Morgues from The Library of Congress

RELATED POST: Obituaries
NEXT POST: You Only Live Twice


  1. And if you can't afford a subscription, go to your local library. That might have one. I discovered my third great grandfather had coast to coast newspaper coverage when most of middle America wasn't even settled yet. That was cool. During his lifetime, papers copied from each other as there was no newswire or pony express. Papers were also shipped from the east coast to the west coast via around the tip of South America. Proquest is a subscription site I found many newspaper articles at.

  2. Your list of sites omitted Old Fulton NY Newspapers [http://www.fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html ].
    Two further tips:
    - Many public libraries have indexes for local papers. Many include obituaries only, but some have marriages and other news. These indexes provide dates and additional keywords that can be used on newspaper sites to locate articles of interest. The extra search terms can be vital because of OCR errors.
    - Become familiar with the organization of the images on whichever sites you use. For example, GoogleNewsArchive separates papers by exact title. Check alternate titles if the date you are looking for does not seem to be digitized. Also, watch out for errors like including multiple editions in the same digital file and out-of-order pages.

    1. Actually my list omitted a couple of hundred sites which is why I said, "Here are just a few." Of course everyone is free to comment with their favorite.

  3. Thanks for including many of my newspaper tutorials in your YouTube Playlist. I have also created a special page on my The Ancestor Hunt site dedicated to newspapers with articles containing thousands of links to free and subscription based newspapers. It is at http://www.theancestorhunt.com/newspapers.html Hopefully it is helpful. Thanks for posting about newspaper research which is my obsession - genealogy wise.

    1. Thank YOU for making the videos :-) And thanks for the link! I'm adding it to the related links and I'm going to post it on my Facebook page later today.

  4. Here is a site for California newspapers, run by UC Riverside: http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=p&p=home&e=-------en--20--1--txt-txIN------- I have found this to be quite good for Sacramento area in the 1850-1900 range, and some San Francisco materials. They also have some issues of a few obscure papers (as well as ones in Southern California). It's far from perfect, especially due to the limitations of OCR, but worth a look for anyone researching late 1800s in California.