Relatively Speaking: Newspapers add flesh to ancestral bones

Oct. 21, 2010 at 5:21 a.m.

By Martha Jones

Old newspapers are excellent resources for family history research. As day-to-day or week-to-week diaries of community events, they often serve a geographic region and may be oriented toward a particular ethnic, cultural, social or political group. They cover political events as they happened and include accounts of the lives of both famous and ordinary people. They open the window for us to view the life and times of our ancestors. They add flesh to their bones.

The question then arises where to locate old newspapers. In years past, genealogists had to search dusty attics of local repositories and thumb through fragile, brittle and yellowed pages to find news from days of yore. Today, hundreds of historical newspapers are digitized and online and hundreds more are available on microfilm. Here are some free and fee-based resources to assist online researchers from "Genealogy Today," by Elisabeth Lindsay:

Wikipedia offers a list of online newspaper archives.

Penn State University has also created a Historical Newspapers Online list for the U.S.

Cyndi's List - Newspapers, is another resource, providing links to a wide variety of newspaper-related websites.

Historical newspapers can be found using an Internet search engine, such as Google. Search by title of the paper, if it is known, or by location, by adding the search terms "historical newspapers" or "digital collections." Library, archive and historical society websites provide excellent resources for finding newspapers, including university libraries and state archives. The largest index for vital records in journals is the Periodical Source Index (PERSI), located in Ft. Wayne, Ind. Consult the "Handybook for Genealogists" or the "Redbook" for local genealogical societies and their websites. They know the best genealogical resources available for their area. You can also go to for a listing of online resources and sometimes clips from old newspapers in all U.S. states and counties.

The Family History Library at has many newspapers available on microfilm that can be ordered for a small fee through local Family History Centers. The Family History Library Card Catalog is available online, and can be searched by place and category within place, or by keyword or subject.

Newspaper abstracts can serve as vital record publications. In areas or times when vital records (birth, marriage and death) were not kept, incomplete or destroyed, newspaper abstracts afford excellent substitutes. They are generally published in one of two ways. Either the abstracts cover a single newspaper, usually chronologically with an every-name index, or information from several local newspapers is combined into one source.

Old newspapers are also excellent sources for obituaries. Many societies, such as the Victoria County Genealogical Society, have published indexes for not only obituaries, but names of people in and around Victoria mentioned in old issues of the Victoria Advocate many years prior to the 1900s.

Contact the newspaper, local library and genealogical society in your ancestors' territory. Check their resources. You never know what you will find.

Happy researching.

E-mail genealogy queries to VCGS members will research queries requiring extensive study.



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