5 Tips for Genealogy Research in Chronicling America

Detail, Chronicling America website, accessed July 10, 2019.

Now that Chronicling America has more than 15 million newspaper pages, it’s time to put them to good use! There is so much history in those pages, and there might even be a bit of your own. But do you know how to find it?

Below are some tips that can help you do genealogical research in Chronicling America. If you still aren’t finding anything though, remember, the Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room has a lot of other tools to help you! So be sure to visit or contact us for more help.

“Local News of First Importance in Paper.” The Bourbon News (Paris, KY), June 14, 1921.

Start with the right newspaper. 

News about births, deaths, marriages, local school achievements, sports, and businesses are all going to be covered by local newspapers. Unless you are looking up someone who was very famous, articles about members of your family were probably not printed in every national newspaper. So the key to finding the articles is finding out which newspaper to look in.

If you know where your family member lived or where certain events took place, you can use the “U.S. Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present” to find out which newspapers were published in a specific place, at a specific time period. You can also use the “All Digitized Newspapers 1789-1963” tab to browse which newspapers we have digitized and the dates that we have.

Have specific dates in mind.

Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. If you search all of Chronicling America with a name, you might just get back more than you expect. Knowing ahead some basic dates of when someone lived in a place, or the dates of important milestones, can help you to narrow down your searches.

Don’t forget that if you can come to the Library, we have additional genealogy databases available on site that can help you find some of those key dates as well!

Detail of the Advanced Search tab, Chronicling America website, accessed July 10, 2019.

Use the Advanced Search.

If you know which newspaper you need, and you know the dates you want to search, you should start with the Advanced Search tab. It allows you to narrow your search to a specific newspaper, a specific date range (to the day rather than year), and gives you many more options for how to enter keywords and phrases.

“Society.” Evening Star (Washington, DC), January 17, 1916.

Use the proximity search for names.

Was there an obituary about someone in your family, or simply a death notice? Full length articles usually list a person’s name in order whereas death notices often list a last name first. Sometimes a middle name is used, sometimes just an initial. With all of the variations that a name can take, you might not want to search for a name as a phrase. The proximity search, however, allows you to search for a first name within five words of a last name, which should pick up all of those variations.

Another tip for old newspapers–for articles on women, try searching their husband’s name as well. Women were often referred to in newspapers as Mrs. Husband’s Name.

Use more keywords.

Use the “with any of the words” box to search for multiple spellings of a last name. You can also use that box to try additional terms for context—birth, death, obituary, passengers, marriage, engagement, etc. Just remember not to make your search so specific that you don’t find anything!

Don’t forget to save what you find–download the PDF of the page or use the clipping tool to get a smaller section.

Have you found any great family stories yet? We would love to hear about it in the comments!