How to Search Old Newspapers for Ancestors

By June 19, 2017Historical Records
old newspaper articles

Genealogical research needs to be backed by concrete evidence to support the findings and make it an authentic piece of research to further pass on to related people and future generations. One of the sources of genealogical information is the newspapers of old times – the digitalized versions of these newspapers are a wonderful source of information for genealogical research. However, searching for information about ancestors gets a bit tricky at times because it is not easily identifiable in the voluminous information available on different databases and websites.  However, it can be difficult to search old newspapers for ancestors. We have put together some resources to point you in the right direction.

Some Old Newspapers for Ancestors Information

Before diving into search techniques, we should first help identify some places to start your search.

London Gazette Free online and dates back to 17th Century

Belfast Gazette Free online and dates back to 17th Century

Dublin Gazette or Irish Oifigiuil Hardcopy and Microfilm available at National Library, but not online

Ireland Old News Free online database most Irish Counties (Carlow, Laois, Longford, Westmeath and Wexford Not Included)

Boston Pilot Friends search from the 1840’s to 1920s. Over 46,000 Irish immigration records.

Elephind – over 149 million items (newspaper pages/articles) from several countries

Library of Congress – Chronicling America – over 10.5 million pages from 43 states

Google News Archive – over 2,500 newspapers

Old Fulton NY Post Cards –  over 34 million pages of New York State (and many other states) historical newspapers

Trove – over 195 million articles from Australia

To find a comprehensive list of national newspapers, check out the work completed by Family Search

 Old Newspapers for Ancestors

Old Newspapers for Ancestors

How to Search Old Newspapers for Ancestors

1  – Start With the Surname

The search beginning with the surname and only the surname could provide ease of data search out of hundreds and thousands of newspaper search results. For very common surnames, it gets difficult to search for an ancestor among thousands of names with the same or similar surnames as yours. In that case, more details need to be added in order to refine your search and arrive at more precise results.


 2 – The Dates Are Useful

The dates of an event or a nearby date are important to be known by an individual who is searching for ancestral information in the newspaper data. Since the newspaper archives are organized based on the dates, any event marked on a specific date would be easily identifiable if the exact date is known or that of any related event. In order to find content in an old newspaper, it is better to dig deep and read it page by page to gather whatever you can. Knowing the location and the date helps in searching for notices in the newspaper such as of marriage and obituary announcements.


3 – Expand Your Search beyond Common Notices

Limiting your search in the newspaper archives only to the common notices would also result in limited information. Moreover, sometimes it might get very difficult to search for a useful piece of information from the old collection of digital newspapers. Try different keywords and move on to extensive search throughout the collections to find the desired piece of information.


4 – Addresses Could be Used as a Clue

The address or physical location (county/town address) of an ancestor could be used as a search query in the newspapers in order to find information about one’s ancestors. One might be surprised by the astonishing events and stories found in the local newspapers, and some of them could be directly linked to the ancestors that are being searched for. Many of the wedding announcements include details about the venue. Also, obituaries contain the address of the family. This could be a link to important information about ancestors.


5 – Search by Newspaper

One of the important aspects to keep in consideration while searching for information about ancestors in the digital versions of newspapers is to first consider the availability of information in certain newspapers. Based on locality and town information, one could identify which newspaper could possibly be containing the desired information on one’s ancestors. Searching randomly might give results but it’s better to narrow down the search for greater clarity and precision.


6 – Related Keywords

When searching for certain announcements about your ancestors in newspapers, it is better to go about searching using different related keywords rather than sticking to the standards, such as searching for obituaries, when you can also try out ‘funeral notices’, ‘death announcements’ etc. This gives you a chance to arrive at records which could not have appeared using standard keywords about an event. Also related newspapers need to be searched for this purpose to simplify the research procedure.


Once you have gathered your evidence, ensure your findings are passed on. First, you should take note of the article, paper and date you have found. Scan your image using an app such as OneFams mobile app. Next, ensure the information is saved for future generations, why not add the details to your family tree and share with all your family.

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