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Conducting Genealogical Research Using Newspapers

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 79788
Newsboys, 1896

Historical newspapers are useful tools for history and genealogy research. Newspapers provide day to day accounts of a particular period in time and supply insight into the customs, cultural values, and social issues which impacted communities on local and global levels.

In regard to genealogical research, newspapers can be searched for ancestors’ death notices/obituaries, personal announcements and celebrations, community involvement, social news and gossip, lodge and club news, employment ads, real estate transactions, legal notices, casualty lists, military news, criminal activity, and much more.

Illustrating community news and the public sentiment of a particular region, historical newspapers can also be beneficial to local history research. Newspapers can be used to track neighborhood changes over time through coverage of business news and advertisements, the buying and selling of property, residential development, and local events.

Because most New Yorkers will not be found in the city’s major newspapers such as the New York Times or the New York Tribune, it is helpful to research newspapers specific to particular neighborhoods/towns, ethnic enclaves, and religious affiliations. Local newspapers often capture details of residents’ lives that may not be found in other genealogical records.

Historical newspapers are accessible through NYPL databases, the library’s microfilm and periodicals collections, and various online digitization projects.

House For Sale, Pennsylvania Journal, June 11, 1747
House For Sale, Pennsylvania Journal, June 11, 1747

Databases

Lincoln Assassinated, Chicago Tribune, April 15 1865, 4am edition.
President Lincoln's Assassination, Chicago Tribune, 4 a.m. edition, April 15, 1865

NYPL provides access to a variety of databases which feature historical newspapers. This list of historical newspaper databases includes publications spanning throughout New York, the United States, and internationally.

Frequently searched newspaper databases include:

Additional historical newspaper databases encompass a wide range of communities and regions, including African American newspapers, Jewish newspapers, British newspapers, Latin American newspapers, Irish newspapers, historical ephemera, and numerous additional newspapers listed by title. View the full list here.

Though not solely featuring newspapers, other databases’ collections also include a limited scope of historical newspaper titles. The genealogical collections of Ancestry Library Edition and Fold3 provide access to a range of U.S. and international newspapers. Selected newspaper articles and indexes covering the past 30 years are included in Biography Index and General One File, and the American Periodicals database also offers magazines, journals, newspapers, and other periodicals helpful to local history research throughout the U.S.

To find out if a particular newspaper is available through the library’s databases, search by title using the Find e-Journals by Title in Databases page. Many historical newspaper databases are only accessible on site in an NYPL research or branch library. Consult database descriptions for details.

Non-Digitized Collections

The library also holds a wealth of historical newspapers accessible through microfilm. These newspaper collections encompass a far wider scope of holdings than those which are available electronically.

Newspapers on microfilm are searchable through the NYPL Classic Catalog using the following subjects:

New York City Newspapers

Find newspapers across New York City by searching the subject New York (N.Y.) -- Newspapers. Use the “Limit Sort Search” option to narrow results by date and language (e.g. Limiting the language to Russian and the year of publication to “Before 1940” will yield 5 relevant newspaper titles).

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Newsboy, 1896

To find newspapers for a particular borough in New York City, search “[Borough Name] (New York, N.Y.) -- Newspapers.” (e.g. Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) -- Newspapers.)

The library also holds newspapers specific to particular neighborhoods and regions of New York City. The following are a sampling of catalog subjects which categorize New York City newspapers by neighborhoods:

Because not all newspapers can be searched by subject at the neighborhood level, it is also useful to search the catalog by keyword. For example, the keyword search “Kip’s Bay Newspapers” shows results for The Eagle, which covers East Harlem, Yorkville, Kips Bay. Through searching by keyword for “Upper West Side Newspapers,” The Gazette: A weekly newspaper devoted to the Upper West Side was found.

New York City newspapers can also be searched by particular religious and ethnic communities, as seen through the subjects:

 1541094
New York Sunday Journal, February 16, 1896

United States Newspapers

Newspapers published on local levels throughout the U.S. are searchable by county and city.

For New York State newspapers, search “[County Name] (N.Y.) -- Newspapers.” e.g.:

To find U.S. newspapers by county, search “[County Name] [(State Abbreviation)] -- Newspapers.” e.g.:

To find U.S. newspapers by city, search “[City Name] [(State Abbreviation)] -- Newspapers.” e.g.:

Newspapers across the U.S. can also be searched by religious and ethnic communities. e.g.:

Titantic Sinking, Boston Daily Globe, April 15, 1912
Titantic Sinking, Boston Daily Globe, April 15, 1912

The catalog can also be used to search for newspaper bibliographies, directories, and histories, and indexes. Use the Journal Title Search to search the catalog for newspapers by title.

The majority of newspapers listed in the catalog are available on microfilm and can be accessed through the Microforms Reading Room, room 100 of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Some newspaper titles are also accessible through non-microfilm, print-only collections. Additional access locations for newspapers include the Dorot Jewish Division, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and other library divisions.

United States Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present

Chronicling America, a service of the National Digital Newspaper Program, hosts a U.S. newspaper directory for years 1690-present. This directory allows for newspapers to be searched by state, county, and city; by keyword, language, ethnicity, and target audience; and alphabetically.

For each newspaper title, information on places, dates, and frequency of publication, geographic coverage, and language are provided. Find out which libraries throughout the U.S. hold each newspaper and the scope of each library’s holdings.

Search the directory here: U.S. Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present

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Newsgirl, 1896

Milstein Division Collections

Microfilm

The Milstein Division of United States History, Local History, and Genealogy also holds a collection of local newspapers for New York City neighborhoods. Available through the Milstein Division Microform Room, these newspapers reflect the culture of very specific communities over time. The following are a sampling of neighborhood newspapers held by the Milstein Division:

Additional communities represented in the Milstein Division’s newspaper holdings include the East Village, Murray Hill, SoHo, and the West Bronx, among others.

Print Collections

Newspaper excerpts, indexes, abstracts, and guides can be found throughout the Milstein Division’s collections. Examples of newspapers and related materials in the Milstein Division are illustrated through the following categories:

Vital Records

Passenger Arrivals, San Francisco Chronicle, December 18, 1873
Passenger Arrivals, San Francisco Chronicle, December 18, 1873

Local History

Abstracts

Indexes

Newspaper Indexes in the Milstein Division
Newspaper indexes for obituaries, death notices, and marriages in the Milstein Division

Bibliographies

Histories

Materials relating to a particular region can be searched by the subjects “[County Name] [(State Abbreviation)] -- Genealogy” and “[County Name] [(State Abbreviation)] -- History.”

Clippings Files

The Milstein Division also houses a collection of New York City Clippings Files. These clippings include articles from a wide variety of New York City newspapers and magazines. The bulk of materials date from the 1950's to present, with some from the early 20th century and the late 19th century.

Topics range from Advertising to Zoos, with many files for New York City streets and neighborhoods. Popular subjects include parks, transportation, and buildings. Searchable in the catalog, examples of clippings files include:

Firefighters with children at St. Charles Hospital Christmas party, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 17, 1954
Firefighters visiting St. Charles Hospital, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 17, 1954

Digitized Newspaper Collections

Digitized newspapers are highly beneficial to researchers, offering ease of accessibility and searching. Because of the ongoing nature of digitization, the availability of digitized newspapers will continue to grow over time. The following is a sampling of freely accessible historical newspapers for New York and regions throughout the United States.

New York

The U.S.

More Newspaper Repositories

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Cigarette Card: Household Hints - Three Uses for Old Newspapers

Further Reading

Many other genealogy handbooks found through the library’s catalog include information on historical newspaper research.

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Newsboy?

That's a newsgirl and newsboy at the top of the article

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