What is the best way to go about searching old newspaper records for information on your ancestors? The vast array of different types of information available in these records can be somewhat overwhelming at first until you get used to them. Since most people today will be using indexed online old newspaper records, that is what we will explore. There are certain techniques that will allow you to discover the information you are looking for much more quickly than others. If you know these techniques, your research activities with online old newspaper records will be much more productive.
There are two effective means to search, depending on the type of search you are doing. You can be looking for general information on your ancestor (kind of just looking around to see what might be written about him or her, if anything), or you might be looking for a specific type of article (such as a marriage announcement, obituary, birth announcement, or an article on something specific in the community that happened that you know involved your ancestor). Whether you are doing a general or a targeted search will determine the best search method for you.
If you are doing a general search on an indexed old newspapers website, it is best to choose a newspaper or a collection of newspapers to search that are closest geographically to where your ancestor lived. Then, choose a range of dates in which your ancestor lived, or probably lived. If you are not sure of a date range, just make it a century from the time your ancestor was most likely born. When searching for a name, it is best to put the first and last name in quotation marks to get exact results.
If you don’t get results with an exact name search, try variations on the spelling of the first name, last name, and/or both, try using first and middle initials, try using a maiden name if you know it or use the names of the parents if you know them (sometimes children are simply listed in old newspapers as the “child of” whoever the parents are, which is useful to know if you are interested in discovering information about your ancestor as a child). If all else fails, do a general name search within your other search parameters, to learn if the name was listed some other way, or if there was a name your ancestor went by that you didn’t know.
When doing a search for a specific event or type of article, select the type of article from the provided drop-down box, if there is one. Many sites allow you to search by type of article. Use a date range closest to when you know or think the date to be. Use a collection as close to the actual location as possible. Using an exact name search is best, but if you can’t find the information that way, you can use name variations, or even leave the name out altogether, and simply search your area and date range using other keywords that would be in the type of article for which you are searching.