Finding old newspapers from your ancestors’ hometown isn’t always easy. Here’s how to use Chronicling America to identify the newspapers that were in print at the time. Those issues may not be online, so Chronicling America also points you to copies of those newspapers at libraries and archives.
In the new Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast #158, I spoke with Deborah Thomas at the Library of Congress. She manages one of my favorite websites for family history: the free historical newspaper site, Chronicling America. We talked about its amazing treasure trove of digitized newspapers: what’s there, what’s coming, and tips for searching them.
But only 1.5% of the 155,000 newspapers published over time in the U.S. newspapers have been digitized at Chronicling America. So you’ll want to look those ones up and locate them offsite. The good news is that there’s a lesser-known tool at Chronicling America to help you do just that. It’s called the US Newspaper Directory. Let’s walk through using it step-by-step.
How to Use Chronicling America to Find Your Ancestors’ Hometown Newspapers
Go to the free Chronicling America website (no login needed). From the home page, click the US Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present button on the top right:
The US Newspaper Directory is the most comprehensive database in the world for historical U.S. newspapers. It contains every newspaper known to the Library of Congress. That makes it the perfect place to find the newspapers that were printed in your ancestor’s hometown in any given time and place. The directory will provide you with a library catalog of holdings of these papers.
2. Fill in the blanks.
As shown below, first select the state and county (1). You may also select the city, but for smaller towns or rural areas, you may want to look at all papers that cover the county first. Neighboring towns or cities (even across county lines) may have reported on events local to your family, so it’s worth running a few searches. My tip: use Google Maps to find names of nearby towns. After you select the place, then narrow down a time period (2). Below is a search for newspapers in print at the time of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which affected my family. The image below also gives you a third type of selection criteria to focus on specific newspapers, such as those with a particular keyword in the title, or those printed in English or geared toward a particular occupation (3).
3. Choose a newspaper.
Below is a list of results from the above search, narrowed down to just English-language papers. There are still over 400! Some are multiple entries for the same paper, with different formats. Some may be less likely to mention my family, such as certain immigrant-oriented or political papers.
I like to start with the ones that are already online, as indicated in the boxed text above. Click on one of those items, and scroll to the bottom of the catalog description to where it says Related Links, as shown below. Click the link to browse online issues.
Unfortunately, you can’t search within just those issues, you can just browse. However, because this is an “online resource”, you could go back to Chronicling America’s home page and search by date range, name and keyword for that newspaper and your ancestor’s name in it (as shown in the following example.)
4. Turn to offline papers.
If there are issues of this newspaper that aren’t online, the US Newspaper Directory can still help. In the above entry, see where it says Libraries that Have It just below the title of the newspaper? Click that link and you will see a list of library holdings, as shown below. Watch for the issue dates held at each library. You may have to scroll through several library holdings before you find the dates you want. (Remember, there may be multiple entries in the catalog for that same newspaper in different formats, so go back to your search results to look for additional library holdings mentioned in other entries.)
5. Get access to an offline newspaper.
Unfortunately, we can’t click from this point directly to the library holding of these issues. Instead, open a new window in your web browser and go to www.WorldCat.org, an enormous compiled catalog from thousands of libraries. Type the title in the search box and include the keyword newspaper, and then click Search Everything.
Clicking on the first search result in WorldCat takes you to The Argonaut’s entry in WorldCat, shown below. Here you may look toward the bottom of the entry to see all libraries with that newspaper. Enter you zip code in the Enter your location field and click Find Libraries and WorldCat will display the results in the order of their proximity to you.
On the right side are links to view each’s library information or contact a librarian. Use either option to explore the possibility of having copies made of specific articles, like an obituary, or seeing whether they would lend their copy to a library near you via inter-library loan (they probably won’t send original issues, but may be willing to lend a microfilmed copy). If you don’t find a workable library here, click the View all editions and formats link near the top of the entry. This will reveal additional options for accessing the item.
Get the scoop on your family in old newspapers
Here are more ways to learn about genealogy research in old newspapers:
Old scrapbooks are a great resource for discovering your family history, whether you find them in your family’s attic or you stumble across an obituary scrapbook in a local archive. Check out The Archive Lady’s tips for finding these one-of-a kind resources.
Scrapbooks are one of my favorite record sources to do genealogy research in and to also process in the archives. There are all kinds of scrapbooks; each and every one is unique and one-of-a-kind. They were put together with love and the hope that what was saved and pasted onto those pages will be remembered.
The origins of scrapbooking is said to go back to the 15th century in England and it is still a hobby enjoyed by many today. Most archives, libraries, historical and genealogical societies have scrapbooks in their collections. They will most likely be found in the Manuscript Collection as part of a specifically named collection.
What’s in old scrapbooks
Scrapbooks contain all kinds of wonderful genealogical records, photographs, and ephemera. There is even a scrapbook in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives that has candy bar wrappers pasted in it!
That particular scrapbook is one of my absolute favorites. It was compiled and owned by Evelyn Ellis and dates to the 1930s and 1940s. Among the normal newspaper clippings and event programs are interesting pieces such as a Baby Ruth candy bar wrapper with a handwritten note by Evelyn that reads, “Always remember June 11, 1938 at Beach Grove at the Ice Cream Supper:”
There is also an original ticket pasted into the scrapbook from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee where Evelyn Ellis visited and recorded her comments on April 1, 1939:
There are scrapbooks for just about any subject. Aside from personal scrapbooks, you can find war scrapbooks, obituary clipping scrapbooks, and scrapbooks that collected and recorded local or national events. The obituaries found in scrapbooks could be a real find because sometimes they are the only pieces of the newspaper that survive and can be a treasure trove for any genealogist. Many scrapbooks contain one-of-a-kind documents, photographs, and ephemera.
To find scrapbooks in an archive, ask the archivist if they have any scrapbooks in their records collections. Many times scrapbooks are housed with a particular manuscript collection and will be listed in the finding aid. Some archives have a collection of just scrapbooks that have been donated to them and can be easily accessed. Most scrapbooks will not be on research shelves, but rather will be stored in back rooms at the archives and will have to be requested. You should also check the archives online catalog for any listings of scrapbooks before you jump in the car and drive to the archives.
I encourage all genealogists to check with the archive in the area where your ancestors were from and see if they have any scrapbooks in their archived records collections. Scrapbooks are like time capsules; you don’t know what will be found in them until you open them up.
“Remember: It’s not all online; contact or visit an archive today!” That’s Melissa’s signature line. Even though we here at Genealogy Gems love teaching you how to find everything online–whether viaGoogleor your favorite Genealogy Giantswebsites–it’s important to know how to find original documents and manuscripts that aren’t online.Click hereto read more from Melissa Barker, The Archive Lady.
Relative Race season 3 is still going strong. Are you watching this family-friendly reality TV series? It’s also family-history friendly! If you haven’t tuned in yet, consider catching up by watching free episodes you’ve missed. Check details here for the rest of the season.
BYUtv’s acclaimed reality competition television series, “Relative Race,” has just crested the halfway point for season 3. Episode 6 airs tomorrow, Sunday, April 8 at 7pm MT/9pm ET. According to the show’s producers, “‘Relative Race’ is ‘Amazing Race’ meets ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ This original family history-based competition reality show follows four dynamic duo teams as they race across the U.S. in search of long lost relatives, armed with only paper maps, a rental car, and a flip phone.
“Cameras follow all four teams as they embark on an emotional 10-day journey throughout the United States, stopping each day to complete two challenges and find (and stay with) a newly discovered relative in a different city. At the end of each day, the team that finishes last receives a strike; after 3 strikes, teams are eliminated and the remaining teams travel to the grand finale where there is a $50k grand prize for the winning team.”
Here’s a quick video promo for the season:
Watch Relative Race Season 3
In case you’ve missed previous episodes, you canwatch them for free on BYUtv. You don’t even need to create a free guest account. The latest episode from Season 3 (episode 5) is already posted. And if you really want to binge-watch some genealogy TV, you can also catch all past episodes from Seasons 1 and 2.
Remaining episodes air tomorrow and following Sunday evenings on BYUtv. Why tune in live? Show producers posted a great reason on theirFacebook page: “We run all kinds of giveaways during the show. So you should definitely check out our Instagram and Twitter pages.”
Relative Race: Behind the Scenes Exclusive
In the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #189, host and producer Lisa Louise Cooke chatted with Relative Race season 1 contestants, who share their experiences criss-crossing the country, meeting their AncestryDNA matches. The podcast episode also includes persuasive reasons for testing your own DNA (if you haven’t yet) and expert tips for tracing your Irish roots. Click here to listen!
And I want to hear from you in the Comments below! if you’ve been watching season 3:
What do you think of Season 3 compared to previous seasons?
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!
See if you can find U.S. ancestors using these new online resources (many of them free!): U.S. Supreme Court cases; an African American research guide; newspapers serving Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina and Texas; orphan train riders and Rhode Island burials since 1647. Also, your help is requested to help build an important database of African American soldiers in the Civil War.
Featured collection: U.S. Supreme Court cases
“More than 225 years of Supreme Court decisions acquired by the Library of Congress are now publicly available online – free to access in a page image format for the first time,” reported a recent Library of Congresspress release. “The Library has made available more than 35,000 cases that were published in the printed bound editions of United States Reports (U.S. Reports).”
This collection is comprised of “official reports of decisions for the United States Supreme Court dating to the court’s first decision in 1791 and to earlier courts that preceded the Supreme Court in the colonial era,” or in other words, cases originally published in bound volumes 1-542. “This collection of Supreme Court cases is fully searchable. Filters allow users to narrow their searches by date, name of the justice authoring the opinion, subject and by the main legal concepts at issue in each case. PDF versions of individual cases can be viewed and downloaded.” We noticed this in a tweet from The Legal Genealogist Judy Russell, who makes a case for the genealogical value of Supreme Court cases inthis articleon her blog.
Find US ancestors in more new online resources
A new African American research guide
The Maryland State Archives has published a new guide, Researching African American Families at the Maryland State Archives.(Clicking on the link will take you directly to a PDF version of the guide). The introduction states, “A strong tradition of record keeping from the earliest days of settlement has resulted in the preservation of a vast amount of material relevant to African American history. This material can be found primarily at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, where the permanent public records of state, county, and local agencies are conveniently centralized. Records concerning African Americans, once neglected by professional historians and genealogists alike, provide new insights into the Maryland experience for people of color.”
Even if your African American roots are not in Maryland (or if your Maryland roots are not African American), you can still likely learn about important record types and research tips!
African American Civil War Soldiers Database
TheAfrican American Civil War Soldiers projectrecently launched an effort to build “a comprehensive database of the estimated 200,000 soldiers who formed the United States Colored Troops” during the Civil War. According to the website, this project aims “to improve our knowledge of the African Americans who fought for freedom in the American Civil War, to provide descendants of the soldiers with access to information on their ancestors, and to present students of history with primary documents from a pivotal moment in African American history.”
Volunteers are requested to help transcribe “images of the soldiers’ military service records, which have been photographed and scanned by the National Archives and Records Administration and Fold3. From these, we are collecting detailed individual information such as name, age, height, place of birth and enlistment, as well as evidence of battles fought, injuries and causalities sustained, and honors and promotions won.”
It’s easy to start transcribing: there’s no software to download or learn, and you don’t even need to register. If you click “Get started,” you’ll be taken directly to an image to transcribe (a quick series of pop-up screens will give you a quick orientation about the type of document you’ll be transcribing and how to do it). The example shown below comes from a “Company Descriptive Book, the first card in each soldier’s file. This card contains information on the soldier’s origins and enlistment.”
North Carolina. Digital NC continues to post new, free newspaper content on its site. Recent additions include the weeklyThe Hertford County Herald(Ahoskie, NC) for 1914-1923; More issues of theWatauga Democrat (Boone, NC, serving the western part of the state; coverage now spans 1923-1963); and theCherokee Scout(Cherokee County)—now with nearly 2,500 issues from 1923-1971.
Texas.The Portal of Texas Historywebsite is adding more free newspaper content: the Cleveland Advocate and its sister publications, Dayton News and Eastex Advocate, and two other defunct newspapers – Illustrated Paperboy and Cleveland Journal. Anews reportdescribes the Portal of Texas History as “a gateway to Texas’s earliest history with newspapers dating back to 1829, seven years before Texas became a republic,” with 5.7 million individual newspaper pages, and “the largest single-state free digital repository in the nation for newspapers.”
Orphan Train riders
A new collection at subscription giant Ancestry.com,New York, Orphans Placed in the New York Foundling Hospital and Children’s Aid Society, 1855-1925, gathers the names of nearly 18,000 poor, abandoned or orphaned children who were placed under the care of New York City orphanages and eventually shipped to families in the western United States to be adopted. These children are popularly known as “orphan train” riders. According to the collection description, “Information as to the identities of a large number of these children has been preserved in federal and state censuses taken between 1855 and 1925, as well as in the 1890 New York City police census, and represents a potential boon to the descendants of these foundlings. This collection contains a two-volume work that encompasses the “Orphan Train Riders” from NYFH.” Tip: Have fun learning the stories of some of these children inOrphan Trainby Christina Baker Kline, a NYT best-selling novel and a Genealogy Gems Book Club pick.
Rhode Island burials
The New England Historic Genealogical Society has announced a new database on its subscription website, AmericanAncestors.org.Rhode Island: Historical Cemeteries, 1647-2000“includes 450,000 individuals buried in Rhode Island,” states a company email. “More than 900,000 names transcribed from tombstones are included. This database provides tombstone transcriptions, and birth and death records. Some entries include tombstone images and GPS coordinates.” The project is part of a volunteer-driven collaboration with the Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries Transcription Project.
Find US ancestors in more new online collections
Did you miss these recent announcements about US records that are new online? Check them out!
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!
In this “Blast from the Past” episode, Lisa gives voice to the era of silent films, in a unique approach to understanding her great-grandmother’s life. Her passion for this mostly-forgotten film genre comes through in her conversation with film archivist Sam Gill of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont, California.
Don’t miss these fun segments, too:
A listener writes in after discovering a birth mom’s story in passport records (see what lengths he goes to in order to access the records!).
Just after RootsTech 2018, Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard reports on the latest DNA news you’ll want to know.
NEWS: ROOTSTECH 2018 DNA NEWS ROUNDUP FROM YOUR DNA GUIDE DIAHAN SOUTHARD
First up was MyHeritage, showing their support for the 7 million adopted individuals in the United States with their new DNA Quest campaign. MyHeritage will provide 15,000 DNA test kits to eligible participants free of charge, in order to help these adoptees use DNA to reunite them with their biological families. With this initiative they “hope to make this project a shining light for corporate philanthropy and an example to be followed by other commercial companies in their own lines of expertise to make the world a better place.” MyHeritage has assembled an advisory board of genetic genealogists and genetic counselors to help drive this project and ensure it meets the needs of the community. If you or someone you know is interested in participating, you can head on over to the DNA Quest website (www.dnaquest.com) to fill out an application. But you better hurry, the application deadline is April 30, 2018.
Next, addressing the biggest problem in genetic genealogy, namely the looming What Next? question facing millions of newly swabbed participants, MyHeritage announced the Big Tree ? a giant network of genetic and genealogy results that will automate much of the match comparison and tree searching to replace your head-scratching with light-bulb moments. They have already made significant headway on this project, as reported in the journal Science, which MyHeritage’s own chief scientific officer Yaniv Erlich collaborated on. The journal reports that the team of scientists successfully extracted public family trees from Geni.com (a MyHeritage daughter company), and then used a computer program to clean up and link the trees together. It sounds like MyHeritage will be adding genetic data to this kind of tree data in their Big Tree project.
MyHeritage isn’t the only company out to improve the DNA matching experience. UK based LivingDNA announcedthat they plan to add DNA matching to their popular origins test by third quarter 2018. When they launched in October of 2016, LivingDNA was not offering cousin matching, but opted instead to focus all of their resources on providing very detailed origins reports, including breaking down the UK in to 46 categories. In the months since their launch, they have been working on a genetic matching system, called Family Networks, that will appeal to a wide range of users and will “reduce the risk of human error and take away the tedious task of figuring out how each person on a user’s list are related to one another.” They are promising an experience that provides “a level of relationship prediction and specificity beyond anything currently on the market.”
So it sounds like if you are currently struggling with turning your DNA matches into genealogical discoveries, our testing companies want you to know you are not alone, and they are working hard to provide solutions to these problems. Time will only tell if they can succeed.
Diahan also provides answers to questions asked about this blog postannouncing updates to MyHeritage DNA matching technology and its new chromosome browser.
If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is a marvelous soundtrack of silent film music, played live (you’ll hear audience laughter occasionally in the background) and supplied by Sam Gill at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Playand is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users.
GEM: INTRODUCTION TO SILENT FILMS
(Image above: a page from Lisa’s grandmother’s journal)
Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode #2 about transcribing family journals and letters was remastered inEpisode #134.
Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum: the website for this museum is packed with resources: links to Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd film locations; the International Buster Keaton Society; Classic Images Magazine; a timeline and early history of film and more.
Shown here: Sam Gill and Lisa Cooke at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum on the day of this interview. Throughout their conversation, you hear the sounds of excited theater patrons filling the auditorium before a screening.
Sam Gill’s interest in silent film dates to 1966, when as a college student he traveled to Hollywood to interview his aging heroes from the silent screen comedy era. For more than 20 years, he was Archivist of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s Margaret Herrick Library, where he established the Academy’s Special Collections and helped it grow to its current status as the preeminent repository for the study of American cinema. He is currently a Board Member of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. Over the years, he has consulted on or otherwise contributed his expertise to numerous film festivals, museum film programs and film history books.
Sam recently sent us these delightful photos (below) of himself over the years:
(Image 1) 1966: His first trip to Hollywood
(Image 2) 1974: A news article about a research trip to Florida
(Image 3) 2017: A birthday party for Diana Serra Cary (Baby Peggy), the last surviving star of the silent screen, held at the Edison Theater of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum; also shown is Rena Kiehn, the museum’s publicity director and store manager
Start creating fabulous, irresistible videos about your family history with Animoto.com. You don’t need special video-editing skills: just drag and drop your photos and videos, pick a layout and music, add a little text and voila! You’ve got an awesome video! Try this out for yourself at Animoto.com.
If you’re looking for a specific movie, start with a Google search with the name in quotations (and, if you like, anything else you know about it, such as an actor or director’s name or the year). You may find lots of results, including a Wikipedia page and film history write-ups, but if you want to WATCH it, limit your search results to Video.
You can also turn to free curated collections online, such as:
Netflix.com: Netflix subscribers can access the service’s little-known collection of silent films by entering the Netflix link for browsing its film categories and then the category specific to silent films, 53310:
Your local public library (search catalog: try searching for an actor’s name as author)
Ebay: May be the right place to purchase a hard-to-find title.Click hereto view current results for a search on silent films, filtered to include only movie/film items.
Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer
Sunny Morton, Editor
Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, Content Contributor
Hannah Fullerton, Production Assistant
Lacey Cooke, Service Manager
Disclosure: This document contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting this free podcast and blog!