Adding Newspapers To Your Ancestry Search
A great way to discover tidbits of family history is by searching through historic newspaper archives. In my personal ancestry search, I have found that online newspaper searches, especially in North America, can be extremely helpful. Newspapers can reveal direct information about an ancestor and create a historical context for the society that he or she lived.
What Will You Find?
The population of 19th and 20th century North America was significantly lower than it is today. Since towns and cities were much smaller, chances are that an ancestor made the news at some point in their lifetime. Newspapers of this period reflected a simpler time; quite different from the abysmal crime and global events we are accustomed to today.
In my experience, I (Peggy) have found that newspapers reported on the goings-on of communities, focusing on topics such as local current events, community gatherings and agricultural news. This of course will be different for larger centres such as New York City, but my searches have taken me to the fledgling towns of the Canadian Prairies and the American Midwest. Delving into the stories and adverts of old newspapers is fascinating providing valuable insight into the world in which my ancestors lived.
My online searches of newspaper archives have proved fruitful and I have come across the names of my own ancestors. While researching my maternal great grandparents, I discovered a society page article that delightfully described a tea party hosted by my great grandmother. Artfully describing the ladies’ dresses, the selections of food and the table décor, the article painted a vivid image in my mind.
Most recently, I have been attempting to piece together information about an American branch of the family that has been lost with the passing of the older generation. Through the extensive collection of newspaper archives at the American Library of Congress, I was able to find my great grandfather’s obituary, shedding some light on the life of a relative that I knew little about.
How To Find Newspaper Archives?
While many online newspaper archives require you to sign up or pay a fee, there are a number of archives that allow you to access them for free. These archives are well organized and easy to navigate and if you have a name and a range of dates, you are well on your way to potentially finding an ancestor. Keep in mind, that patience is a virtue; you will probably have to click through many unrelated articles. But, seeing your ancestor’s name in black and white newsprint, it is like striking gold.
Finding these gems really enhances your genealogical research. Often times we are limited to dates: birth, baptismal, marriage, and death. While dates are your foundation, newspaper articles provide valuable information that can further acquaint you with an elusive ancestor.
Below is a list of open access Newspaper Archives that might aid you in your research:
- Peel’s Prairie Provinces – A selection of newspaper archives throughout western Canada
- INK – ODW Newspaper Collection – A selection of newspaper archives in Ontario
- Manitobia : Digital Resources on Manitoba History – A selection of newspaper archives in Manitoba
- The British Colonist – The British Colonist archives from Victoria, British Columbia
- Nova Scotia Historical Newspapers – A selection of newspaper archives thoughout Nova Scotia
- Library of Congress – A selection of newspaper archives thoughout the USA
- Google News Archive – A selection of over 2500 newspapers from around the world