Newspapers have been around for centuries. Often these were the only media used for mass communication of daily or weekly events and stories. Newspapers hold a lot of information that can be a treasure trove for historians and genealogists.
Local and state newspapers often hold more information than what you may find in the records archive. Record archives can be ledgers with the most basic and minimal information. Helpful but often leaves a person with more questions than answers.
Newspapers have a more personable approach and tell more of a story from what you might find in court records or a ledger of a specific event (birth, death, marriage). That reporter may have been physically on the scene of a specific event (community, social, accident, crime scene, etc.) and was able to get first-hand accounts of what took place, maybe even as it happened.
News articles will provide more accurate information, the names of additional people involved in a specific event, the exact location and continuous coverage as the story progressed over time.
What Kind of Information Can Be Found in Older Newspapers?
Older newspapers are a treasure trove of information and hold information covering just about everything.
- Community news and events (the good and bad)
- Local and national events
- Classifieds (for sale, help wanted, items wanted)
- Weather (which was most likely already out of date)
- Social events including when people were visiting from out of town or traveling on vacation
- Birth notifications
- Engagement and marriage announcements
- Death notices (obituaries)
- Property transfers
As you can see, there are many categories to find even the slightest piece of information on a brick wall ancestor.
Example Breaking News Story
This headline was found in a local paper that I’ve found valuable information. This particular newspaper story involves two of my 2nd great aunts that I’ve done extensive research on through government and city records. Without online access to this newspaper, I would have never known that at age 14 and 16, these ancestors were working as seamstresses and were forced to jump out the window of a burning building to save their own lives. This story provided a snapshot of this moment of their lives including the names of everyone involved, injuries suffered and exactly where they worked.
Online Newspaper Sources
Newspapers require preservation. If not kept in the ideal environment, newspapers will deteriorate and will be destroyed with time. Preservation is important so news of the past can be shared with the present and future.
To do this, many newspapers may have been converted to microfiche/microfilm. As technology advances, that microfiche/microfilm is being digitized and indexed to be searchable online on a regular computer.
A great place to start is the Wikipedia index of online newspaper archives from all over the world.
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Have you found interesting information on your ancestors in older newspapers? Particularly information you won’t find in the normal online databases? Tell us about your find in the comments!