Searching Through Old Newspapers

Posted January 13, 2011 by Geni | 2 Comments

You may be thinking that your ancestor wasn’t famous or “important” enough to get their name mentioned in the press. However, you might be surprised at what you can find about your ancestor in print. Let’s take a closer look at where you can find information in old newspapers to further your genealogical research.

Birth/Death Notifications, Marriage Announcements

These types of announcements were very common to print and it’s very likely you may find your ancestor listed here. They often yield data on names, relations, locations etc.

Local News

In addition to stories about fires and burglaries, articles about local businessmen, farmers and disputes may contain an array of information about your ancestor. These are fun to read and you never know what story you may find about your ancestor.

Unclaimed letters

During the 19th century, it was common for the postal service to print a list of unclaimed letters held at the post office. You may find an undelivered letter to/from one of your ancestors.


While you may ignore advertisements in contemporary newspapers, don’t be so fast to dismiss them in newspapers from the 18th and 19th centuries. Like today, many businesses, big and small, frequently paid for advertising in local newspapers. You may also find ads for farms, land and houses, which often contain detailed information. Advertisements for rewards offered for army deserters, runaway slaves, servants and stolen live stock can also be found here.

Marine Intelligence

You’ll find lists of ship arrivals and departures, ships lost in storms, taken by pirates or simply lost at sea.


Obituaries hold a great deal of genealogical information, including names, birth/death dates, cause of death and a list of family members. You may also find a brief biography about the deceased and learn of your ancestor’s occupation or religious affiliation.

Older newspapers can be found on microfilm at many libraries. You can also find vast archives of old newspaper articles online. It’s important to remember to keep copies of any articles you may find and add them in your ancestor’s Geni profile!