Issues with Historical Newspapers

Terminology

When searching in newspapers, especially historical newspapers, it is important to remember that terminology changes over time. When trying to find articles on a certain subject, it can be useful to think about whether the phrase you are searching for was used in the time period you are researching or if it would have been called something different. Sometimes the terms that were once used could be considered offensive today.

For example, if you are looking for articles about African-American or Black people from the 19th or 20th centuries, you may need to try terms that are no longer used and considered offensive like Negro or Colored.

This is just one example of how you need to think about the way people, places, and things were referred to in the past.

Scanning Issues

Historical newspapers are usually digitized by scanning, which creates an image of the issue. Then, technology called OCR (Optical Character Recognition) is used to interpret the scan to make the text searchable. Sometimes, due to poor quality and hard to read font, the OCR doesn't do a perfect job. Usually, the older the newspaper equals less quality OCR. What this means is that sometimes characters get messed up and interpreted as the wrong letter or word. Until the technology evolves, this is just something that we need to be aware of when trying to do research in old newspapers.

For more detailed tips on researching in old newspapers:

Terminology

When searching in newspapers, especially historical newspapers, it is important to remember that terminology changes over time. When trying to find articles on a certain subject, it can be useful to think about whether the phrase you are searching for was used in the time period you are researching or if it would have been called something different. Sometimes the terms that were once used could be considered offensive today.

For example, if you are looking for articles about African-American or Black people from the 19th or 20th centuries, you may need to try terms that are no longer used and considered offensive like Negro or Colored.

This is just one example of how you need to think about the way people, places, and things were referred to in the past.

Searching for People

If you are doing genealogical work or are just searching for a person, here are a few things to consider:

  • Names can be broken up by line breaks. For example, Peterson could be broken up by a hyphen due to the line breaking in between the name. So, if you are having trouble finding someone, you may try only searching for parts of their name. 
  • Married women were often not referred to by their own name. Instead of their own name, they would be referred to as Mrs John Doe. 

How to Access Newspapers

The simplest way to find a newspaper is to search for the newspaper in Google. Most newspapers today have an online version of their newspaper. Here are some tips on accessing newspapers, both current and historical:

  • You may run into a pay wall after accessing a few articles. If this happens, you can either pay for access, or you might try looking up the local library in that town. Often times the local library will have access to the newspaper. You will likely be required to go to the library location to gain access.
  • Newspaper websites may or may not have an archive on their website. If they do, it often does not include all past issues of the newspaper. It may only include articles that have been published since they created their website. If you want to look at older issues of the paper, you can try to contact library in that town or county to see if they have past issues of the newspaper (often on microfilm). You also might try contacting the newspaper to see if they have kept back issues.