New York Newspaper Archives

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Genealogy has soared in popularity as people are becoming more interested in their family heritage. It can be fun to sift through old records and build a family tree, but it’s also incredibly rewarding.

Once you start searching it’s hard to stop. When you dive into your research, you can uncover story after story about your ancestors. You may find that your great, great grandfather was a notorious bank robber, or your great grandmother came to America from Germany because she was avoiding persecution. You can learn so much about where you came from by looking at the lives of your ancient relatives in New York.

The best part is that with the wide availability of records through the internet, searching your heritage is pretty easy. There are many sites and databases on the internet that contain tons of information. They can be a treasure trove of family history.

One resource that you may have overlooked is New York newspaper archives. They allow you to tap into hundreds of listings of newspapers that go back decades. If you haven’t considered looking at old newspapers to learn more about your family, you are probably missing out. They offer so much information and it’s right at your fingertips.

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What kind of information can you learn from New York newspaper archives?

While most people flock to the internet and especially websites that specialize in ancestry searches and family tree builders, newspaper archives often get overlooked. People may not be aware of all that old newspapers offer to the heritage sleuth. In truth, it was the newspaper that was the main source of information for most people long before the telephone, television, and internet.

For hundreds of years (the first known newspaper in the U.S. was printed and distributed in the late 1700s), the newspaper has been the way that people learn about the events in their community and the world. And for a very long time, it was the only source of news, other than word of mouth.

The fact that newspapers have been around for so long is pretty good assurance that you can get some great information from them. There’s a lot more potential than you might realize. Obituaries can tell you the date of death, place of death, place of burial, and often family member names. But there’s a lot more than that. Browse the archives and see what discoveries old newspapers have in store for you.

Where should you search in New York state historic newspapers?

Just about every section in the newspaper has the potential to provide some type of information that will help your search. It’s like a detective game or intricate puzzle. Each little bit of information helps you to build the big picture.

Different sections of the paper have different types of information, but they all offer clues to your family heritage. Over the years, some sections are no longer used because they are considered obsolete, but when you look at the older papers, those sections can be gold mines.

While looking through the entire paper is a good practice, you can take it section by section, using a more systematic approach to find what you are looking for.

Here are some of the sections and the information you can find.

  • Academia
    1. Attendance Records
    2. Class Reunion Announcements
    3. Dean’s List
    4. Graduate Notices
    5. Honor Roll Announcements
    6. School Events
    7. School Sports News and Announcements
    8. Teacher Records
  • Business
    1. Business Notices
    2. Business Openings
    3. Local Business News
    4. New Business Openings
  • Church
    1. Church News
    2. New Church or Church Plants
    3. New Member Announcements
  • Civil War, Slavery, Servants
    1. Civil War Battles
    2. Indentured Servants
    3. Runaway Slave Notices
  • Community
    1. Club Announcements
    2. Community Announcements
    3. Letters to the Editor
    4. Organization Events
    5. Political Events
    6. Social Announcements
    7. Volunteer Announcements
    8. War Time Volunteers
  • Court and Legal
    1. Arrest Reports
    2. Court Dockets
    3. Court Filings
    4. Jury Lists
    5. Legal Notices
    6. Personal Legal Notices
    7. Police Blotters
    8. Tax Delinquencies
    9. Tax Lists
    10. Unclaimed Letters
  • Deaths
    1. Death Notices
    2. Funerals
    3. Obituaries
  • Marriages, Weddings, and Births
    1. Anniversaries
    2. Birth Announcements
    3. Elopements
    4. Marriage Announcements
    5. Wedding Announcements
  • Meetings
    1. Minutes of Meetings (county, city, etc.)
    2. “Old Settler” meetings
    3. School Board Meetings/Minutes
  • Military
    1. Draft Lists
    2. Local and Community Soldier News
    3. Military Lists
    4. News from Soldiers
    5. Soldier Homecomings
  • News
    1. Accidents and Car Wrecks
    2. Advertisements
    3. Biographical Sketches
    4. Classified Ads
    5. Editorials
    6. Local Personality Highlights
    7. News Stories
    8. Society Pages
  • Property
    1. Bankruptcies
    2. Estate Settlements
    3. Foreclosures
    4. Probate Notices
    5. Property Transfers
    6. Public Auctions
    7. Public Sales
    8. Real Estate Transactions
  • Travel
    1. Hotel Guest Lists
    2. Immigrant Card
    3. Ship Arrivals
    4. Stagecoach Passenger Lists
    5. Ship Passenger Lists
    6. Train Passenger Lists
    7. Train Schedules

Organize your facts for better results

If you are just beginning to research your heritage, New York historical newspapers can be a tremendous resource to help you get your search off the ground. But even if you have been working on your family tree for years, newspaper archives could still have a lot to offer. They can help you fill in a lot of the blanks where you are missing info.

Before you jump into an intensive search you might find it helpful to get the information that you already have in some sort of organized format. While you might have all of the vital information attached to members in your family tree, you should also keep some basics handy. Keep a document on your computer or a notebook where you can easily joy down information on certain ancestors.

Record the information that you have on each person, known names, dates, places, and schools. If you are missing certain pieces of information, leave those spaces open so you can fill them in when you find them.

You might also want to have one place for information that might be relevant to your search in the future. While not all of your family facts are helpful in your genealogy research now, some may prove to be necessary later.

Tips for searching New York state newspaper archives

Beginning your newspaper search is easy, just do it! Here are some tips that will help you get even better results.

Look at the outskirts of town and in neighboring towns

Your first inclination may be to search in specific towns where you know your ancestors lived or worked, but it’s a good idea to expand your search out a little. Look at neighboring cities and areas outside of the town limits.

Look at extended family members

Looking at your direct relatives only may seem like a good idea, but you can get some really good clues by looking at extended family members such as aunts, uncles, and cousins. As you search them you can backtrack and trace them to your relatives. In doing so it can turn up new, useful information.

Narrow the parameters of your search

If you find that you are getting flooded with search results, add more information to narrow it and get more focused, relevant results.

Broaden the parameters of your search

If you find that you aren’t getting many search results—or none at all—then cut back on your search terms to make your search broader. Try searching with only a last name, date and location.

Spell names in different ways

Many records were handwritten long ago so names were often recorded inaccurately. Try different spellings for your ancestors’ names, especially surnames.

Check date ranges to find specific events

Newspaper stories often publish very close to the day the events occur, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it could be days or weeks before a story would show up in those printed pages. So don’t limit your search to just a few specific days, expand your search.

Searching for your ancestors is as educational as it is fun. There is so much that you can learn about the history of your family and the areas they are from. Online newspapers have so much to offer so let them fuel your search and help you fill in your family tree.