Admittedly, finding the newspaper that may have recorded pieces of your ancestors' lives can be a bit of a
challenge. To begin your search, you will need two pieces of information: 1) the area in which your ancestor
lived and 2) a specific time frame.
Ideally, you'll want to know the town in which they lived, but it's a good idea to also know the name
of the county, state, and larger towns. Start locally and work your way up to the larger areas
as needed. Newspapers, like any other business, came and went over the years, so you'll want to know what
timeframe you're looking for to save yourself the trouble of looking for a paper that didn't even exist in
the years in which your target ancestor lived.
What if you have the name of the town in which your ancestor lived, but can't find it anywhere on present
day maps? Have a look at some gazetteers
to see if you can learn about name changes over the years. Go to the Gazeteers extra
for some online assistance with locating and using gazetteers.
Once you've defined the time and area, the next step is to find where these old newspapers can be found today.
Because of their fragility, most old papers have been
microfilmed for use by researchers. To find out
where these microfilms are located, you have several options. If you still live in the same area as your
ancestors, your first plan of attack should be to go to the local library. If they don't have the microfilms
there, they should be able to direct you to them or perhaps to newspaper abstracts that have been published
in book form.
Even if you don't live in the area, you might want to consider calling or writing the library as it may be
possible to borrow the microfilms on
interlibrary loan. If you are
unable to find the newspaper through the local library, try the state library or
archives. The state library collection should
be almost complete, and most state libraries participate in interlibrary loan programs with other state
libraries. State and county historical and genealogical societies are also an excellent resource for locating
old newspapers (and newspaper abstracts).
If you live too far to visit or the librarians you've contacted are unable to assist you, it's time
to consult some finding aids such as newspaper directories. These resources will help you identify
which libraries or repositories have editions of particular newspapers for given time periods.
Some of the better known newspaper directories are Clarence S. Brigham's History and Bibliography
of American Newspapers, 1690-1820, Winifred Gregory's American Newspaper
(which covers 1821-1936), Ayers Directory of Publications, and Lubomyr R. and Anna T. Wynar's
Encyclopedic Directory of Ethnic Newspapers and Periodicals in the United States. Many public
and genealogical libraries have these directories.
If you have easy access to a local Family History Center,
you may also want to search the FHL Catalog by the
locality -- state, county, city - and then under the subject of newspapers. While the FHL does not hold many
local newspapers, it does have indexes to and abstracts from quite a few.