Because newpapers are bulky and deteriorate rather quickly, the old newspapers that have survived are on microfilm that can be accessed through interlibrary loan. Before you can request microfilm you have to determine what newspapers were active at the time your ancestors were living in the area. The next step is to find where the microfilm is stored and how to request the microfilm you need. Kimberly Powell at About.com gives these tips to find old newspapers -
- The U.S. Newspaper Program, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a national effort to locate, catalog, and microfilm newspapers published in the United States from the eighteenth century to the present. The national database is maintained by the Online Computer Library Center and can be accessed through the free FirstSearch service at thousands of participating libraries across the U.S. All newspapers microfilmed through this project are available through interlibrary loan.
- Check with the local public library or academic library in the town where the event happened to see if they serve as a depository for local newspapers.
- The Library of Congress maintains one of the most extensive newspaper collections in the world with over 9,000 U.S. newspaper titles and 25,000 non-US newspaper titles.
- The Family History Center in Salt Lake City has thousands of microfilmed newspapers from around the world which can be ordered through your local Family History Center. Search the Family History Library Catalog for your ancestor's location to find what newspapers and other records have been microfilmed.
- Contact the local newspaper office to see if they maintain a library of their back issues. Also, most newspapers have a website now that can give you more information.
- Historical and genealogical societies often have newspaper resources for their immediate area or will known where to find them.
- Many U.S. state archives and libraries serve as depositories for microfilms of newspapers.
- ProQuest has digitized over 16 million newspaper pages, including a full run of The New York Times (1851-2001), the Los Angeles Times (1881-1984), and the Chicago Tribune (1849-1984). The Wall Street Journal (1880-1987), The Washington Post (1877-1988), The Christian Science Monitor (1908-1991), the Atlanta Constitution (1868-1925), the Boston Globe (1872-1922), and the Hartford Courant (1764-1984). You can gain access to the database through membership in a participating library/institution or by joining (for a fee) an organization which subscribes to the collection. One such popular option is the Godfrey Scholar program.
A word of caution when you use old newspapers in your research. Verify the facts because there may be errors. It also needs to be documented by writing down the title of the newspaper, its place of publication, the date of issue, and the page number.
Dale L. Edwards