Tip: Where to Look for Your Ancestors in the Newspaper

Newspapers can be a treasure trove of information about your ancestors. Unlike government records, which are often limited to forms, newspapers can typically include a wide variety of different types of information about the people who live in the towns and cities they serve. Newspapers often go beyond the facts to tell the stories about people’s lives.

If you’re just starting out looking for an ancestor in the newspaper, a common place to begin is with birth, marriage, and death announcements. Although the amount of information provided can vary widely, details you might find in these announcements include:

  • Birth Announcements: baby’s name, birth date, gender, place of birth, parents’ names, family religion, grandparents’ names, mother’s maiden name, sibling names, photos

  • Engagement/Wedding Announcements: wedding date and place, bride’s and groom’s names, parents’ names, family religion, members of the wedding party, guest list, name of minister, where the couple plans to live, description of bride’s dress, details of ceremony/reception/shower, photos

  • Obituaries and Death Notices: death date and place, birth date and place, occupation/interests, military service, past places of residence, notable accomplishments, name and place of residence of close family, mortuary/cemetery, burial date, cause of death, photos

However, births, marriages, and deaths are just the beginning of the places in the newspaper where you might find your ancestors. The possibilities are nearly endless, but some sections in which you may want to look for your family include:

  • Advertisements (business ads, personal ads)
  • Church activities, news, and events
  • Court dockets/jury lists
  • Disaster victim lists
  • Entertainment sections (local theater and performances, school/church productions)
  • Gossip columns
  • Land/home/farm sales
  • Legal notices (divorces, probate, dissolution of business partnerships, sheriffs’ sales, delinquent tax lists, lawsuits, civil and criminal trials, foreclosures, estate settlements, bankruptcies, public sales/auctions)
  • Letters to the editor
  • Local election news/political events
  • Military service information (enlistment, draft, injury/death, letters home)
  • News stories (accidents/wrecks, disasters, crimes)
  • Passenger lists (trains, ships)
  • Personal notices
  • Police blotters
  • School news (honor roll, graduates, teachers)
  • Social news and events (parties, club meetings, out-of-town visitors, hotel guests, community events, contests, holiday celebrations, vacations, fraternal organizations, reunions, anniversaries, memorials)
  • Sports news (local teams, school sports, community leagues)
  • Unclaimed letters lists

Get started looking for your ancestor’s by searching or browsing on Newspapers.com!

40 thoughts on “Tip: Where to Look for Your Ancestors in the Newspaper

  1. I do wish you could get the Barnesville Enterprise in Belmont County, Ohio. They have the original newspapers back to President Buchanan’s time and on film at the Barnesville Library. They are a treasure chest of information.

    • The Enterprise would be a great addition. I’d also love to see the Bellaire Daily Leader and the Martins Ferry Daily Times, too. At least some of the Intel is available now.

      • You ladies are reading my mind. I have family from Belmont County and the Bellaire Daily Leader and the Martins Ferry Daily Times would be fantastic additions. I live out of state so I can’t go to the library to look at them. Also more newspapers from Columbus, Ohio.

  2. Is there a way to get a local paper on newspapers.com ? I’d be willing to assist them in scanning or whatever they needed just so I could look at the papers from my area.

    • I don’t recall the Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel on Newspapers.com, however it was in the Google Newspaper archive but is no longer there neither

      • I know that I saved articles from an old newspaper and now the newspaper and my clippings are gone. Bait and switch.

        • Someone told me to not save as this can disappear…they said to actually copy the file and paste it into your files so you have a full copy not just a link. Hope it works for you.

  3. have you checked the website of the local library in the area you are looking at? some have them online.

  4. Anyone searching in Georgia can go to the Digital Library of Georgia and it is free.

  5. I am interested in the newspapers of Wellsville, Ohio.There are several dating back to mid 1800’s.

  6. I guess you have no Canadian papers in this, so except for the New England states, it really is of no use to me. I have used it for that, though.

    • Agree – nothing found for Canada. Better to go to the provincial archives for the area.

  7. I really wish you could get the Merrill Daily Herald from Merrill, WI 54452. That is where I was born and raised up until the age of 22 when I decided to go to CA. I don’t know the year the paper began, but I was born in 1942, and they were in operation then.

  8. The Carlisle Sentinel and Carlisle Herald should be added. Carlisle is home to the U.S. Army War College, Dickinson College, as well as being one of the major transport hubs in history. History includes British spies, the only sitting Prisident leading troops into “a possible” battle, Civil War skirmish leading up to the biggest Civil War battle of all, …Gettysburg, Greatest athlete of all time, home of Molly Pitcher, murder of known madam by one of her girls, prison riots, ….Carlisle has it all.

    • Totally agree about the Carlisle newspapers and would also add the current Harrisburg newspaper as well

  9. Newspapers.com has helped me out tremendously in my search for my family. However I do wish you would have the ‘”Citizen Herald”. It was a once a week newspaper published in Walden, New York. You have Middletown, which is close, but I can’t find the information there that I know would be in the “Citizen Herald”

  10. Founded over 250 years ago, historic Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was frequented by Ben Franklin, George Washington (yes, he slept here – specifically at the Sun Inn), and other notables during America’s colonial period. Why is there no newspaper available for this city except those from neighboring Allentown? Could you please consider adding (at least) just one paper, such as the Bethlehem Globe Times? We’d be so appreciative! Thank you.

  11. SO far i am not having any luck with newspapers as most of them are only in the 1900s. I don’t need news from the 1900s, I would like at least 1870-1900 or even earlier than 1870. I am looking for newspapers from Tyler Co. WV or Ritchie Co or Pleasants Co WV. Or DEL.

  12. The Morning Call (MC) in Allentown, PA would be a boon for newspapers.com. That paper holds the key to the Lehigh Valley, particularly after about 1918 when it basically absorbed all competitors. But MC is currently proprietary and charges exorbitant fees ($50 to pull one small article from microfiche — and I had already identified the article and the exact date). MC needs to come into the 21st century and make its archives available. I would gladly pay an additional monthly fee for access to its archives.

  13. The subscriptions to Newspapers.com was THE best Mother’s Day gift I asked for!!! I have found so many obits of both direct ancestors and non direct. Sometimes the non direct had the info I was searching for. I also discovered a brother of my husbands Great Grandfather….no one knew the names of his 2 brothers. Found the article about his death which in turn led me to find his DC and WWI Draft card on Ancestry.

  14. need better search options. NEED to be able to EXCLUDE some terms, try searching “Harper” and being unable to exclude magazine, weekly, FERRY, bazaar, brothers, publishing, etc…

  15. I have had Newspapers for a year, with sickness I haven’t used it yet but to scan to see if you have any papers from Dresden, Tennessee. Dresden is a small town of Weakley County. I’m wondering if there would be a chance of it coming on line through your website? I’m debating whether to continue with Newspapers as all my family lived in that area. Thank you

  16. I agree with other subscribers: the search capabilities are extremely limited and clumsy. Searching is the most crucial aspect of successful information retrieval, yet I waste enormous amounts of time trying to get around your software’s limitations. No way to exclude words, among other things, and apparently very crude optical character recognition software yield enormous numbers of unrelated, unwanted entries. In some instances I’ve had to simply give up searching. Example: I have ancestors whose surname was “Garman.” Searching for Garman produces thousands of unwanted entries, and most of those are caused by your software having mistaken “German” for “Garman.” Were these entries blurry, too light/dark, something that made them difficult to read, maybe I could be more forgiving. But they aren’t. I can read them easily and clearly, but your character recognition software obviously cannot.

    Attempting to find pertinent results with your primitive search limitations and your undiscriminating recognition software have made newspapers.com almost useless. Fix these basic problems and watch your subscription rate climb.

  17. I agree with Sid, your program leaves MUCH to be desired as is the case with much of the Family Tree program. One gets more then asked for and most not related to what was asked for. Also, the fact that there were no papers printed during the years one needs to search. I am searching for a member of my family and his birth date plus his father and mothers names to be sure I have them correct. Not positive if he was born in Canada or Scotland, believe it was Scotland.

  18. I have an ancestor who has a common name. I haven’t been able to find his middle initial, so I have a hard time knowing whether or not a newspaper article is referring to him or another person with the same name. He was born in either 1776 or 1777. I have his date of death and all his children’s names. After scouring newspapers I haven’t founds anything certain I can attach to his profile. I am also unable to find his wife’s name.
    Do you have any recommendations as to how I know it’s the right person when I find an article with his name?

  19. I just wish you had not charging more than double what you initially charged for the same purchase a couple years ago. Basic subscription covered what I now have to pay almost triple for to get same coverage and information. Why not offer one for basic and one to cover all years instead of one for basic and then have to more than double it to get the same coverage you offered on the basic a couple years ago?

    • John,
      To be fair, we haven’t changed the price of the basic subscription and we’ve more than doubled the content in that subscription since a couple of years ago. We did create the Publisher Extra subscription add on for those who are interested in more recent editions of papers and for copyrighted content, but we continue to add millions of new pages to the basic subscription and have not changed the price at all. We hope you find the service useful.

  20. I have been trying to contact someone at Newspapers.com in order to purchase 2 pages that I know are in two different Brooklyn Papers. This would be in 1921 and it would be a notice after the Varsity Horse Show was held. (I think in February) As I remember it, there were two notices – on February 6 the other on February 12. My ancestor is WILLIAM J. BERRY, and he was the organizer of the event.
    Can I get a phone number of someone who will help? I understand the copies will need to be purchased.

  21. Would love to see the Bonner Springs Chieftain available on your site. It has been around forever and is still a great newspaper. They were always up on the Bonner Springs (Kansas) Wyandotte Co (KCK) and Johnson Co happenings. Nearly all of my ancestors were from that area. I am a new subscriber.

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