Conducting Genealogical Research Using Newspapers
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.
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:
- Proquest Historical Newspapers: Major newspapers throughout the U.S. including the New York Times, New York Tribune, New York Amsterdam News, Wall Street Journal,and Newsday (1764-2009).
America’s Historical Newspapers: Early newspapers throughout the U.S. including New York City (1690-1998).
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.
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).
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:
- East Village (New York, N.Y.) -- Newspapers.
- Murray Hill (New York, N.Y.) -- Periodicals.
- TriBeCa (New York, N.Y.) -- Newspapers.
- Washington Heights (New York, N.Y.) -- Newspapers.
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:
- Jewish newspapers -- New York (State) -- New York.
- Italians -- New York (State) -- New York -- Newspapers.
- Germans -- New York (State) -- New York -- Newspapers.
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.:
- Westchester County (N.Y.) -- Newspapers.
- Saratoga County (N.Y.) -- Newspapers.
- Oswego County (N.Y.) -- Newspapers.
To find U.S. newspapers by county, search “[County Name] [(State Abbreviation)] -- Newspapers.” e.g.:
- Hartford County (Conn.) -- Newspapers.
- Los Angeles County (Calif.) -- Newspapers.
- Cherokee County (Okla.) -- Newspapers.
To find U.S. newspapers by city, search “[City Name] [(State Abbreviation)] -- Newspapers.” e.g.:
- Nashville (Tenn.) -- Newspapers.
- Portland (Or.) -- Newspapers.
- Seattle (Wash.) -- Newspapers.
- Little Rock (Ark.) -- Newspapers.
Newspapers across the U.S. can also be searched by religious and ethnic communities. e.g.:
- Baptists -- Newspapers.
- African American newspapers.
- Hispanic Americans -- Newspapers.
- Italian Americans -- Newspapers.
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
Milstein Division Collections
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:
- The Villager 1933-2005, “A weekly newspaper reflecting the finest traditions of Washington Square and Greenwich Village.”
- East Side News 1930-1973
- Chelsea News 1950-2006
- Co-op City Times 1969-1987
- The Parkway News 1973-1981, “Serving the Pelham Parkway/North Bronx communities”
- Manhattan East 1963-1983, "A community newspaper for residents of East Manhattan."
- A Little News 1972-1986, "From the Friends of Central Park and the Friends of Prospect Park."
Additional communities represented in the Milstein Division’s newspaper holdings include the East Village, Murray Hill, SoHo, and the West Bronx, among others.
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:
- Marriages, deaths, accidents, duels and runaways, etc. : compiled from the Weekly Georgia telegraph, Macon, Georgia 1826-1828
- Deaths taken from the "Brooklyn Eagle."
- Local history and genealogy abstracts from Marion, Indiana newspapers, 1876-1880
- Utica : its people & events : an indexed collection of 48 local-history articles, 2004-2007
- Abstracts from the Connecticut Gazette (formerly the New London Gazette) covering southeastern Connecticut, 1774-1776
- Genealogical abstracts from Spartanburg Co., S.C. newspapers, 1872-1879
- Index to central New Jersey newspapers : Political intelligencer & New Jersey advertiser, 1783-1786; Times and New Jersey union, 1859-1868; New Brunswick daily times, 1872-1876
- Hinshaw's historical index of Winchester, Indiana newspapers, 1857-1984
- Swedish-American periodicals : a selective and description bibliography
- Bibliographies and lists of New York State newspapers : an annotated guide
- Fighting words : an illustrated history of newspaper accounts of the Civil War
- Editors and ethnicity : a history of the Irish-American press, 1848-1883
Materials relating to a particular region can be searched by the subjects “[County Name] [(State Abbreviation)] -- Genealogy” and “[County Name] [(State Abbreviation)] -- History.”
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:
- Villages & Sections - Astoria : clippings
- Apartment Houses : clippings.
- Parks - Central Park - History : clippings
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.
- Brooklyn Newsstand, Full run of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1841-1955 via the Brooklyn Public Library.
- The New York Times Archive, The New York Times, 1851-1922 and 1981-present.
- New York Heritage Digital Collections, New York State newspapers organized by county.
- New York State Historic Newspapers, New York State newspapers, 1803-2013
- New York State Library, Selected collections of New York State newspapers.
- Fulton History, New York State newspapers, 1795-2010.
- Chronicling America, Digitized newspapers,1836-1922. A service of the National Digital Newspaper Program.
- Historical Newspapers Online USA, U.S. digitized newspaper titles via the Library of Congress.
- International Coalition on Newspapers, U.S. and international digitized newspaper collections. Includes listings for free websites and paid subscriptions. A service of the Center for Research Libraries.
- Library of Congress, Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room, U.S. newspaper archives, indexes, and morgues.
- Wikipedia: List of Online Newspaper Archives, U.S. and international digitized newspapers. Includes listings for free websites and paid subscriptions.
More Newspaper Repositories
- Bronx County Historical Society
- Brooklyn Historical Society
- Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
- Historic Richmond Town
- New York Historical Society
- New York State Library
- The Newark Public Library
- Queens Library Archives
- Staten Island Museum
- Were your ancestors front-page news?
- Newspaper Research
- American journalism; a history, 1690-1960.
- Newspapers, a reference guide
- Obituaries : a guide to sources
- The source : a guidebook of American genealogy
Many other genealogy handbooks found through the library’s catalog include information on historical newspaper research.