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California Historical Newspaper Search

Researching your family history can seem like a daunting task. Where do you begin? There are so many different sources of information out there it can be a little overwhelming.

The truth is, one of the best places to start your search is in newspapers. Make it a habit to search newspaper archives whenever you add someone to your family tree. Search the newspapers of all the areas you know they lived or spent time in for things such as work or school.

The California historical newspaper archives are great for people whose families settled in the west, especially during the gold rush. You never know when someone will leave a little nugget of information that will open up a flood of information to help your search.

What Can You Learn from California Newspaper Archives?

You might be surprised to learn that you can get a lot of great information from old newspapers. Even in the very early days newspapers contained many stories that were important to the people in that area. For instance, a newspaper during Civil War times might have information on soldiers who came through a town, or how a farmer’s wife protected her homestead from bandits. It may name cattle rustlers, bank robbers, and even people who were wanted by the law.

At the same time, it would also mention local heroes and people who spoke at town meetings. You might find that your ancestors were politicians, evangelists, or even on the wrong side of the law.

You never know until you delve into California newspaper archives online. There’s a lot to discover.


Areas to Look in a California Historic Newspaper Database

Different newspapers will have different sections. They will vary by time period and by location. A bustling gold mining town in 1850s California would publish different information than one in a small settlement on the prairie at around the same time. Read more

  • Academic Competition Stories
  • Advertisements
  • Anniversary Announcements
  • Arrests
  • Attendance Rolls
  • Bankruptcies
  • Biographical Sketches
  • Birth Announcements
  • Business Announcements
  • Business Openings
  • Car Wrecks
  • Church New Members
  • Church News
  • Civil War Battles
  • Class Reunions
  • Classified Ads
  • Club Announcements
  • College Sports Stories
  • Community Highlights
  • Community School Events
  • Court Dockets
  • Court Filings
  • Dean’s List
  • Death Notices
  • Elopements
  • Political Events
  • Probate Notices
  • Public Auctions
  • Public Sales
  • Real Estate Transactions
  • Reports of Accidents
  • Reports of Crimes
  • School Board Meetings/Minutes
  • Ship Arrivals
  • Estate Settlements
  • Foreclosures
  • Funerals
  • Graduates
  • High School Sports Stories
  • Honor Rolls
  • Hotel Guest Lists
  • Indentured Servants
  • Jury Lists
  • Legal Notices
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Local Business News
  • Marriage Announcements
  • Military Lists
  • Minutes of Meetings (county, city, etc.)
  • New Businesses Wedding Announcements
  • News from Soldiers
  • News Stories
  • Obituaries
  • “Old Settler” meetings
  • Organization Events
  • Personal Notices
  • Police Blotters
  • Slave Runaways
  • Social Announcements
  • Tax Delinquencies
  • Tax Lists
  • Teachers
  • Town Hall Meetings
  • Train Schedules
  • Unclaimed Letters
  • War Time Volunteers

Before Beginning Your Search Assemble Your Facts

Before you start searching California digital historical newspapers, assemble your facts. Put together what you know about each person. You might want to make a separate card for each person with their full name, other names they went by, birth date, date of death, where they were born, where they died, where they were buried, parents’ names, spouse name, children (along with birth dates and death dates for cross-reference), and where they worked. If you don’t have all the information, it’s OK. Just assemble what you have. Once you get it all together you might be surprised.

Making a separate card or file for each person might help you keep the information straight. It can get very confusing very quickly, especially if you are searching for multiple people. It isn’t necessarily a hard, fast rule to have all the information on a person; date ranges can be helpful as well as incomplete names. But you do want to keep all your information in order so that you can access it quickly and easily. Either create a file on your computer or use a notebook or notecards.


Tips for Searching California Newspapers Online

It isn’t hard to search California newspapers – or any newspaper archives – but there are a few things you can do to make your search more productive. Follow these tips to make better use of the newspaper archives and increase your chances of getting the results you want.

  • Search surrounding towns. Many people make the mistake of limiting their search to only papers that are in their relative’s hometown or the town where they worked or other known locations. This is a good start, but it shouldn’t end there. Interesting news stories are often picked up by neighboring papers, including larger papers. This is especially true if the person lived there or had family there. Or the story could just be so good it is worthy of national attention. Always check cities where your relative lived, where their families lived, and the cities near there.
  • Don’t limit your search to just your direct ancestors. Sometimes you can hit pay dirt by doing a sort of reverse search by looking up in-laws, siblings, and extended family like cousins, aunts, and uncles.
  • It isn’t unusual to get an overwhelming flood of information that is usually irrelevant or unrelated to your search. You can remedy this by narrowing your search and pulling it more into focus to get more relevant results. If you have a maiden name or middle name or even the name of the city where they were born or lived you can really pull down the results to those that are more likely to be what you are looking for.
  • If you aren’t getting the results you hoped for, don’t be afraid to expand your search. This means cutting back on the information that you give the search engine so that it has wider parameters. For instance, instead of providing a specific city, use the county instead. You can also leave off the middle name and just use first and last or even first initial and last name.
  • Spelling is another area where people often get caught up. Use different spellings, especially of the last name. If you’ve looked at old census reports, you may have noticed that they are usually written by hand. This leaves lots of room for misspellings or illegible names. A person’s name can be recorded wrong or written down wrong so Peters could be Paters or Smith could be Smote, Smite, or Smath. By making little changes to the name, you could uncover more information.
  • Don’t forget the “Mrs. name” trend. Many married women used their husbands’ names. It was a common practice up through the 1950s and 1960s and some even later. You don’t see it often now, but it used to be very common. For instance, Sally Smith Brown is married to Joshua Brown so she would list her name as “Mrs. Joshua Brown.” Make sure you check all the possible variations.
  • Dates can be tricky too. While you should search specific dates, don’t limit your search to just those dates. Often small newspapers won’t publish a story or announcement for days or even weeks after the event. That is true today and it is definitely true in earlier historical newspapers. So, when you are searching, expand your search to encompass several weeks after the event as well as the actual date of the event.

Searching California newspaper archives online can be loads of fun and very rewarding. You could wind up with a ton of information that will help you piece together your family tree and give you a better understanding of where you came from.