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Newspaper Hunt

Historic newspapers can hold a wealth of information for genealogists seeking to fill in their ancestors’ back stories. Local papers often carried detailed coverage of the happenings in their communities. They sought to name as many residents as they could. This encouraged people to subscribe.

This week I attended a Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society (HRGS) workshop on using two newspaper databases, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/) and Newspaper Archive (https://newspaperarchive.com/), to locate historic newspapers. I had previously used the former, but I had never looked at the latter. By attending this workshop, I wanted to learn more about these databases and to beef up my skill in using newspapers as a genealogical resource.

Over the years, I have often searched for old newspapers. I discover them in several ways:

  1. Repositories. Many historic newspapers have been aggregated and are managed professionally. For example, the Nebraska Historical Society holds newspapers from around the state. Once I traveled to Lincoln to look at those for the southwestern Nebraska counties where my family homesteaded. The newspapers I found there did not contain the juicy details of rural life that I expected. I found no mention of my family, or of many other people. The papers housed at the historical society seemed focused on boilerplate national news lifted from the news wires.
  2. Newspaper morgues. These files hold back issues of local newspapers. Last summer my husband/tech advisor and I visited my Nebraska counties and asked about local storage of old newspapers. We found some in a dusty courthouse basement, others in a local historical museum. The basement newspapers were unbelievably fragile, and I fear they will not survive much longer. The historical museum was taking steps to preserve and index the papers from their county. Neither set of papers had any articles about my family although their names occasionally appeared on the regular report of land transactions.
  3. Online sources. The Library of Congress (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/) has digitized many of America’s historic newspapers, but I have not found any of interest on this free site. My family lived in rural areas whose papers have not been collected by the Library of Congress. The online Newspapers.com and Newspaper Archive require subscriptions.

What did I learn at the workshop?

Newspapers.com, to which I subscribe, is probably the best resource for me. It covers many rural midwestern papers. Indeed, I have learned more about my family that I ever thought possible by reading the paper from Mattoon, Illinois on this site. Newspapers.com, an Ancestry affiliate, continues to add newspapers to their collection.

Newspaper Archive does not have much of interest for me. At the workshop, I had the opportunity to browse their holdings. Although they have some international newspapers as well as American ones, they have nothing from anyplace my family ever lived.

The evening we spent at this workshop gave us some dedicated time to learn about and use these subscription databases. While our regular meeting place at the local library is being remodeled, the new Family History Center in Highlands Ranch hosted this meeting and provided the use of their subscriptions to these databases. We had not previously visited this family history location, and I appreciated their hospitality in welcoming HRGS this week.

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