Maybe you’ve been to a State Archives and had the pleasure of spinning through rolls and rolls of microfilmed newspapers to find an obit, marriage announcement or a first-hand description of the tragic family event you’d only heard about through family lore.
Historic newspapers can be a great treasure of information.
But what if you can’t travel to the archives that holds the family history? Time, distance, and money are all the unwelcome restraints on a genealogist.
But wait! Now there’s an easy and free workaround as close as your keyboard.
Awhile back (c. 2006) Google got into the newspaper digitization business. Their mission – invite newspapers to submit their archives and Google would scan, OCR (make every word searchable), and upload the papers online for the world to have easy access for free. Go, Google! But then they stopped c. 2011. Presumably they decided to embark on other projects, or this wasn’t working out, or something. While it is a bummer that they haven’t continued, they have kept their archive alive and well for us to use – again for free.
The coverage varies. They have the New York Times in its entirety since 1851. Other papers have just a few issues. The papers are listed alphabetically with the corresponding dates of issues that are digitized making it very easy to use – if you know or can guess, i.e. the name of the town, the title of the paper. Use the alphabetical tabs at the top and not the search engine. The search engine will take you back out to the web or all of Google.
To access the archive simply go to http://news.google.com/newspapers.
Library of Congress – Chronicling of America
In my humble opinion, while Google Newspapers is nice, the place you really want to go is the Library of Congress’ Chronicling of America Project. That’s the BIG, BIG, BIG archive.
The Library of Congress has made it its mission to archive, preserve, and digitize American newspapers of historic importance. Which basically means lots and lots of newspapers. I don’t know how many, but I do know that there are 300,000 pages of Kansas newspapers online – and that’s just from a recent grant.
The time span is 1836 – 1922. You can search by state, by year, by newspaper publication. And all of the pages are OCRed (or full text searchable).
You can search the site here – http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/.
Bonus! Let’s say your town’s newspaper isn’t on either site, or maybe you don’t know what the name of the paper is – or if there’s a paper – for the time and location in question. The Chronicling of America site as a US Newspaper Directory that itemizes all US newspapers from 1690 to the present. They have north of 150,000 titles listed! So, you can search the directory by location or by title, find the paper of interest, click on the requisite link and “ta da!” you are presented with everything you’d ever want to know about the paper. When & where it was published and where the physical archives are held.
Check out the directory here: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/search/titles/
So, pull up a comfy chair, and pop open a digital newspaper. You’ll be glad you did.