Newspapers And Ancestry – Good Value Or Rip-Off?

Ancestry.com set up a separate newspaper website in 2012. You can pay different subscriptions for both sites, or shell out for one big package with access to all content. It’s not hard to find complaints on genealogy forums that the access levels are confusing. I’ll break it all down clearly in this article.

Is Newspapers.Com Free With Ancestry?

I see a common question pop up on genealogy forums. As Newspapers.com is owned by Ancestry, do Ancestry members get free access to the Newspapers.com archive?

Free access to Newspapers.com is not included with the lower levels of Ancestry membership. The All-Access level includes free but limited access to Newspapers.com.

But keep an eye out for special offers, particularly around national holidays. Ancestry has given free weekend access to Newspapers.com in the past.

They may also bump up All-Access members, by giving a temporary upgrade to the highest level of access to Newspapers.com. A recent example was President’s Day in February 2020.

What? You don’t want to hang out on the Ancestry Corporate blog to catch these special offers? Our newsletter tries to keep an eye out on behalf of our subscribers. There’s a subscription link at the end of this article.

How Much Does Newspapers.Com Cost?

At the time of writing, the Newspaper.Com Basic access is about $8 per month or $45 for a six-month package. The Publisher Extra level is about $20 per month, with a very decent six-month discount at $75.

You can purchase an independent subscription to Newspapers.com, and never use the Ancestry website.

If you intend to use both websites for your family research, it may be more cost-effective to purchase an Ancestry membership that comes with access to Newspapers.com. But then again, it may not. The dual entry paths can be confusing, so I’ll try to break it down in this article.

Newspaper.Com has two levels of access: Basic and Publishers Extra. I’ll get into those levels in a later section. Both levels are available monthly or for a discounted six month period.

Newspaper.Com Standalone Subscriptions

The Newspaper.com subscriptions tend to be lower in cost than Ancestry membership.

Personally, I’ve paid for a month here and there when I know I’ll have a few weeks with spare time. I’m usually looking for obituaries, which means I need the Publisher Extra level (more on that anon).

I prep in advance with a lot of “free” searching to prepare a hit-list of pages behind the Extra firewall. Then I shell out the 20 bucks and “go mad” for a month of searching, clipping, and saving.

The only reason I’ve never taken a longer package is that Newspapers.com does not have some of the Irish regional newspapers that are of most value to my own family research.

Your purchasing decision comes down to the volume of content on Newspapers.com that you expect to be relevant to your family research.

If I was American and starting out my genealogy journey, I’d probably plump for the six-month option. Having done a little bit of digging to make sure that my region of interest is well-presented in the collections. And also checked the free sites I discuss in this section.

Ancestry Subscriptions with a Newspaper Addon

Ancestry subscriptions are more complicated as there are different offers for different regions. For example, American customers have three levels of membership while U.K. and Irish customers have two.

However, the question of which level includes access to Newspapers.com is easy to answer. Only the highest level of “All Access” membership includes the basic Newspaper.com package.

If you are an Ancestry “All Access” member and want to upgrade to the Publisher Plus package with Newspapers.com – you basically have to pay the difference between Basic and Plus. But keep an eye out for emails offering a discounted price on a six-month upgrade. I’ve seen mention of occasional half-price offers, which could be sweet.

For every other Ancestry member? Remember that Ancestry has its own newspaper collection. And there are free alternatives (described in a different section).

But it’s usually not difficult to recognize when you need access to Newspapers.com. The Ancestry record search that is giving you a “blocked” snippet of an obituary that could blow open that brick wall? You need access!

So now the question is figuring out the more cost-effective route to the articles you need.

Should Ancestry Members Upgrade to “All-Access” to get Newspapers.com?

Let’s say your Ancestry membership is currently below “All-Access”, and therefore does not include Newspapers.com. If you desperately want access to Newspapers.com, should you upgrade your Ancestry membership to “All-Access”? And then pay extra for Publisher Extra?

Bear in mind that the six-month independent subscription to Publisher Extra may be lower than upgrading your Ancestry membership.

So then, you need to consider if all the other extras bundled with Ancestry’s All-Access membership can justify the not insignificant outlay. Well, if you’re big into American military documents – maybe it is! Because All-Access also gives you the Fold3 archives.

But if not – then skipping “All-Access” and taking out an independent Newspaper.com subscription may be perfectly adequate for your needs.n

But which level? Basic or Publishers Extra? Let’s look at what’s in each offering.

What Is Included In Newspapers.Com Basic?

The newspaper content available to Basic access tends to be out-of-copyright. For American newspapers, this usually means a cut-off point in the 1920s.

But the large range of newspapers goes back to the 1700s!

Basic membership gives you all the website features such as clipping content. There’s no reduction in features compared to Publishers Extra. The only difference (and it is pretty major) is in the content.       

What Is Newspapers.Com Publishers Extra?

The Publisher Extra level gives you access to content where the publisher retains the rights to the newspaper contents.

Of course, Ancestry has to pay the copyright owner for your access. And is therefore passing on some or all of the cost to you. When I say it like that, doesn’t it seem perfectly reasonable? Unfortunately, Ancestry doesn’t really say it like that when we’re purchasing the Basic subscription. Which gets peoples’ backs up.

Broadly speaking, the Publisher Extra will have a full run of a newspaper up to recent years. There may be gaps for older periods. But crucially, you get access to articles and obituaries from the mid-1920s and forward. This can be a hugely valuable resource for researching your collateral lines.

By that, I mean the descendants and family of the siblings of your direct ancestral line. Your tree is going high, wide, and deep! I’ve got an article on building out your family tree to connect your DNA matches. Twentieth-century obituaries may play a big role in your research.

Newspapers.Com Publishers Extra – Continuing Controversy

When Ancestry launched Newspapers.com in 2012, there was only one level of access. Subscribers got whatever was available on the new website. This changed with the introduction of Publishers Extra in early 2016.

Teething Problems

Ancestry decided not to “grandfather in” the existing Newspapers.com subscribers with a free upgrade. This wouldn’t have been so noticeable if the Publishers Extra level only had new content that had never been seen before on the website. Which is kinda what their people said was the case.

I’ve pulled this staffer quote from the comment trail below the official announcement on the corproate blog.

The new Publishers Extra is actually content that was not on the site before. The content you had available before this new program launched is still in place and we will continue to add papers to that subscription level.

It’s clear from the comment trail that there were some serious glitches in the roll-out. Some newspapers got pushed entirely behind the Extra paywall, which meant that Basic subscribers lost access to articles they’d previously found on the site. This was a bug or miscategorization in many cases, and the Support Team rectified the access in due course.

I’m still not sure if it was a bug in all cases. Or if some existing content did actually move from Basic to Extra. Regardless, it led to a lot of annoyed reaction across genealogy forums.

It would be nice to be able to report that once the teething problems were over, all past and future Newspapers.com customers were happy evermore. Unfortunately, that is not what has happened.

Current Negative Perceptions

You can find gripes and complaints about Newspapers.com access levels on genealogy forums since it launched. And people are still getting confused by what is on offer.

Here’s some comments in 2020 underneath an article on the Family History Daily blog. The first is from someone who paid for the Basic stand-alone subscription to Newspapers.com:

A week ago, I signed up to newspapers.com on the one-month plan, $7.99 USD. Having taken my money, newspapers.com then locked all the search results that I had paid to see, and demanded an upgrade to “Publisher’s Extra” to see what I had already paid to see.

And what about upgrading your Ancestry subscription to get access to Newspapers.com? Here’s someone who did just that:

I upgraded to Ancestry All-Access because they were running a deal. At this point, Newspapers has been completely useless. Everything that looks like it might be interesting will pop up a window: “Give us more money and we will show you something useful. We really mean it this time….really”.

It’s fair to say that those are two very disgruntled customers.

The official Ancestry line will be that both customers were mistaken in what they thought they had paid to see. They both got the Basic level, and the content they wanted is at Extra level.

So is it the customers’ fault? I don’t think so. But I may be biased – I made the same mistake the first and only time I shelled out for a one-month Basic subscription, thinking I’d get some 20th-century obituaries.

The Newspapers.Com Marketing Should Be Much Much Clearer

Look at this package comparison on the Newspapers.com website, as of November 2020. This is the main sign-up page. The yellow highlighting is mine.

So, the page states clearly that Basic gets 186 million+ pages, while Extra gets 433 million+ pages.

But what’s not stated clearly is that individual newspapers are divided across the two categories.  You may view an article in the Des Moines Chronicle from 1921 – but try to see a page from three years later? Up pops the “give us more money” window if you’re on the Basic level.

I don’t see why prospective Basic customers should be able to predict how this works before they pay their subscription. Not based on that marketing page, anyway.

Facebook, Reddit, genealogy blogs – disgruntled customers have been venting about this on family history forums since the inception of Publishers Extra.

It would be a pity if more prospective customers were put off by the thought that Newspapers.Com is not worth investigating as a resource. I wish Ancestry would improve the marketing pages to make it absolutely clear what customers should expect.

Are There Free Alternatives to Newspapers.Com?

There are free newspaper archives that may give you what you need for your family research.

If you’re looking for American newspapers, you should check out the Chronicling America project. This is a digital archive of American newspapers that are in the public domain. If you’re looking for 19th-century content, it may have exactly what you need.

The Ancestry Hunt blog maintains a list of links for free newspaper archives around the world.

World-wide, you may also find libraries and other places of learning where you get free access to paid archives. In Ireland, I can use terminals in several large public libraries to access commercial newspaper archives.

Is Newspapers.Com Worth The Money?

Taking a free trial of Newspapers.Com will help you decide if it’s value for money for you. You may find that one month is enough to find what you need for your research.

You can also watch out for free weekend access at various times. These tend to be around major public holidays or anniversaries of historical events. Usually American, but my memory tells me that St Patrick’s Day also features.

How Does Ancestry Own Newspapers.Com?      

Ancestry launched the Newspapers.com website in November 2012. The Newspapers.com brand is fully owned and operated by Ancestry.com.

Before Ancestry launched the separate website, it already had collections of newspaper archives on the main website. These were indexed and available as part of Ancestry’s record search. However, the newspaper search experience on Ancestry was not to the same quality as to the rest of its records. Basically, searches were not finding the relevant newspaper articles. This was due to issues with Ancestry’s implementation of OCR (optical character recognition) to scan and index their newspaper images.

Ancestry solved this problem in their usual way. They went out and bought another company.

Ancestry’s Purchase of iArchives

iArchives was a company specializing in digitizing American military records. They were based in Utah and had a subscription website called Footnote.com.

The company had developed its own proprietary digitization process for microfilm and paper collections. The Footnote website also had an excellent viewer for zooming in and out of images.

When Ancestry purchased iArchives in 2010, they didn’t just acquire a new military collection. They also got better OCR digitization and viewer technology than what they had in-house. And they got the benefit of software engineers with expertise in these areas.

Fold3 and Newspapers.Com

Are you wondering why you haven’t heard of an Ancestry website called Footnote.com? That’s because Ancestry rebranded Footnote as Fold3.

Why? That’s another story! Let’s focus on what else Ancestry did with the acquisition of iArchives.

The Newspaper.com website and features were built with the expertise of the iArchives developers who were now with Ancestry. When Newspapers.com launched, about half the newspaper collection was copied over from Ancestry’s database. The rest of Ancestry’s collection was transferred over a period of time.

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Photo Credits

Header Photo by Rishabh Sharma on Unsplash

Margaret O'Brien

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