June 1, 2011

Where to Find Old U.S. Newspapers

The following information discusses how to find U.S. Newspapers online and on microfilm.  Hopefully this information can help you track down a specific newspaper title or issue, or help if you want to search multiple papers for a specific person, event, or topic.

Free sites.  Some of these have overlapping content.

  • Google News Archive - There are a lot of newspapers here, but  I can't seem to find a list of exactly which ones.  I don't think Google updates this archive anymore.  Some are pay-per-view, but it's worth a shot to search because something free may come up.  I got the Richmond Dispatch article in my previous post about Czolgosz through this search for free.  You have to choose "Archives" in the left sidebar under "News" after you have entered a search term.
As examples of what you can find on those last two links, here are two state online archives (the ones I personally use the most):
  • Kentuckiana Digital Library (KDL) - Newspapers from throughout Kentucky.  Many are also on the LOC site, but there are some on this site that are not on the LOC site, due some of the scans not meeting LOC guidelines.  For example, the Kentucke Gazette, the oldest newspaper available on KDL, is not on LOC's site.

Subscription sites. In addition to the paid content on the above linked Google News Archive, there is Ancestry, Footnote, and GenealogyBank.   They have some content which is not available elsewhere online for free.  If you cannot afford a subscription to any or all of these sites, I suggest trying to find a local library which has a subscription.

  • GenealogyBank.com - GenealogyBank is my go-to subscription database for newspapers.  Their search is quite reliable and their holdings are large and are updated monthly.  My only complaint is that many of the original images of the articles are not high quality scans.  Some are poor, harshly high-contrast images which can be hard to read.  They probably do this for OCR reasons, which does seem to have improved their search.  That's the trade off, I guess. 
  • Ancestry.com - I've found Ancestry's search to be little better than useless when it comes to searching newspapers, which is a shame.  They do have many newspapers not available elsewhere, but perhaps the only way to really use them it to treat them as microfilm--flip through page by page.
  • Fold3.com - (formerly Footnote.com) The link should take you directly to the list of their newspapers.  I haven't really used footnote all that much so I'll refrain from judging the quality of their search. I haven't used it mainly because of their very limited selection of newspapers, many of which are available elsewhere.  I personally doubt they'll expand their newspaper offerings any time soon since that does not really fit into their new military focus.

Microfilm. A large majority of newspapers holdings are only available on microfilm.  If you are searching for a specific paper which is not yet online, hopefully the following websites and tips can be of help:

  • The Library of Congress Microfilm Directory can tell you what major libraries possess microfilm of a specific newspaper.  The directory is easily searchable by the paper's state, county, and city.  However, it is not complete.  It lists mostly university and state libraries and archives, but is a great starting place. 
  • State Archives, University Libraries.  You might assume that your state's archives would be the best place to go for old newspapers, but in my experience this is not the case.  Newspaper scanning projects are typically done by a state university, and they therefore have the best collections of microfilm.  See the U.S. Newspaper program website or the above linked LOC or Wikipedia indexes to find out the university or historical society which scanned the newspapers for the state of your interest.  The Kentucky Archives in Frankfort, to my knowledge, has no microfilm newspapers for viewing, as they limit their holdings to only government-created documents.  The University of Kentucky library in Lexington, has a comprehensive collection of microfilm Kentucky newspapers, they are also the ones that maintain the KDL newspaper database listed above.  The Georgia Archives has a decent collection, but if you're going to make a trip there just to browse newspapers, UGA's Main Library is a much better destination.  They have a larger collection and are also open more hours during the week (The GA Archives are only open to the public Fridays and Saturdays). However, the Georgia Archives has subscriptions to Genealogybank, Footnote, and Ancestry on their public computers.
  • Smaller Libraries.  Smaller universities, community colleges, county-level public libraries, and county/regional historical cities often have newspapers on microfilm, and these places are not listed in the Library of Congress microfilm database. They often have microfilm of the local county paper(s).  It is best to check directly with a library to see if they have microfilm of that paper; just because their website makes no mention of microfilm holdings does not mean they do not have any available.

    The smaller libraries may be more convenient to you than the larger libraries and archives, either by location or by hours of operation.  Keep in mind that the large libraries will attract more researchers, and that these places have a limited number of microfilm readers.  Some local libraries that do not advertise their microfilim holdings may only get one or two viewers per week.  On the other hand, the larger libraries may have more advanced technology than the smaller libraries--for instance you may be able to save microfilm images directly to a USB drive.

    Am I missing any good resources or tips?  Are there any broken links?  Please let me know in the comments.

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