Newspapers.com Review And Guide For Genealogy Research

Newspapers.com is a growing online archive of U.S. newspapers and obituaries with titles from other English-speaking countries.

This review takes an in-depth look at the best ways for genealogy hobbyists to use the website for family research.

We have a separate article on the subscription options for Newspapers.com and its parent website Ancestry.com. But you’ll get my tips and advice on using the site in this review.

Summary Of Pros And Cons

Pros:

  • Biggest archive of U.S. newspapers online
  • A small number of international countries, including Canada and the UK
  • Can browse and search before you register (limited to seeing small excerpts)
  • Free trial gives full access to all content

Cons:

  • Confusing subscription options (explained in our companion article)
  • Free trial requires payment details
  • Glitches in the mapping features
  • Searches don’t always find all the right content *

If you’ve used Ancestry.com or other online record collections, you’ll find that running searches on newspapers can be trickier to get the right results.

But this isn’t unique to Newpapers.com. All the newspaper archives have similar challenges.

Some search challenges

Searches are based on what’s known as OCR technology – or Optical Character Recognition. The technology tries to recognize the shapes of letters in the scanned images of newspaper pages.

As well as different newspaper fonts and typefaces, the technology must cope with blurs, smears, and smudges on deteriorating paper.

It’s simply not as effective as searching through standardized collections – like birth, marriage, and death records.

So, you may need more time than you’d expect to track down all the relevant content.

What Is Newspapers.Com? Quick Facts

Newspapers.com is an online newspaper archive operated by genealogy giant Ancestry. The website has several access levels, with the premium tier giving access to more recent content.

The website provides browse and search features to find and save images of newspaper clippings or full pages.

Customers have the option of taking membership through the Newspapers.com website, or as an upgrade via Ancestry membership. I’ve written a separate article to explain the different subscription levels across Newspapers.com and Ancestry.

Biggest U.S. collection

The archive has the largest collection of U.S. newspaper titles when compared to the other sites. At the time of writing, there are about 18,700+ titles within the archive.

Genealogy Quotes By Writers x
Genealogy Quotes By Writers

Our round-up review of U.S. newspaper archives gives a breakdown of the numbers of the top three companies with U.S. collections.

It would be very convenient for us hobby genealogists if a single archive had all newspapers. But each of the top commercial archives has negotiated exclusive access to different sets of content.

This brings me to the next section.

Will Newspapers.com Be Worth It For You?

I’m assuming that you want to use Newspapers.com to research your family tree.

The best outcome for you is that there are lots of articles and obituaries about many of your ancestors and relatives.

But how do you know that the archive will be worthwhile before you actually pay for access? This review includes a guide on how to go about this.

I suggest you follow a three-step process to evaluate Newspapers.com (and any other archive).

Step 1: Use the free browse features

You can browse the full archive to check for local newspapers in the area and time periods that your family resided.

Our next section gives you tips on browsing Newspapers.com by location.

Step 2: Use the free search features

You can search the archive without registering an account. I suggest that you look for at least eight articles relevant to your tree.

Why eight articles? Because if there’s less than that number, you’ll probably be able to fit all your research into the seven days free trial.

This brings me to the last step in your evaluation.

Step 3: Maximize your free trial.

I advise that you take a strategic approach to your research during the free trial period.

Don’t go deep into any one relative. Use the trial to assess whether there’s enough coverage across many family branches that will warrant a year of research.

Or will you be done within a month or within the week’s free trial? If all your ancestors lived in sparsely populated areas, then you may be out of luck with finding newspaper coverage.

I have a full section in this article on getting the best out of your trial.

Our Guide To Browsing By Location

Although I rely heavily on the search features, I also like to get an overview of newspaper titles across a specific area or cluster of small towns.

Research example

I’ll work through a specific example to show you how to get the best research experience.

A branch of my Irish-American family settled in a small town in New Jersey called Westfield.

Newspapers.com doesn’t have any titles from that town. Unfortunately for my wallet, GenealogyBank has one Westfield title and NewspaperArchive has the other!

But perhaps Newspapers.com has publications from adjacent small towns? I’m not American, so I need help with the geography! If you’re not from the Garden State, you probably would need help too.

Using the Papers page

The “Papers” link in the top menu gives you a nice location interface down to the State level.

However, my biggest gripe about this page is that it doesn’t let me drill down below the State.

As I’m scanning my eye over 147 NJ titles, I’m wondering if Camden, Mount Olive, or Middletown-Point are near Westfield? I have no idea.

Map View is limited

When you toggle over to the Map view, you may recognize the interface if you’re an Ancestry user. The Map view lets you drill down to some place names.

The problem is that it seems only to show towns of a certain size.

I couldn’t spot any of Westfield, Plainfield, Rahway, or Cranford – all small towns quite close to each other. Help!

By the way, I’m not pulling these New Jersey names out of a hat. I found a 1918 account of a birthday party of my 3rd cousin with a guest list that mentions these places. I’m still busy chasing the leads.

Tip: use the Browse feature and your own map

Here’s my top tip if you’re not familiar with the small towns in an area. Use one of the many online directories that show places close to each other. TravelMath.com is one of my favorites.

This lets you draw up a hit list of places that may have newspapers relevant to where your family lived.

For example, here’s what it shows me when using Westfield as the anchor.

For non-American readers: don’t be put off by the “Cities” description – some of these places have populations below 30K, which many would consider to be a small town.

Armed with this list of adjacent towns, you can now use the Browse feature on Newspapers.com. This feature lets you drill down below State level to reach a list of towns in alphabetical order.

You access this page via the “Browse” link in the top menu.

Here, I’ve scrolled through the list to find a town from my adjacent hit list.

You can drill down further by year and examine specific newspaper titles.

You can also jump to a page about the publication, by clicking on the information icon (highlighted above).

You can run specific searches on the publication from this dedicated page. Although, I prefer to use the general Search interface. I’ll come to that in the next section.

More mapping problems

If you’re still scoping out the newspapers in an area, the “Nearby Papers” section should be useful – if it worked better. However, the map feature has some bad glitches in the interface.

It doesn’t highlight the location of the paper you’re looking at. Worse still, the pop-up list of papers is half-way off the screen! See below, the text is cut off in my browser.

The website’s parent company, Ancestry.com, outsources mapping features to MapBox. There are clearly problems with the integration here.

Our Guide To Free Searches On Newspapers.com

You can go a long way with free searches to evaluate whether your ancestors are relatives can be found on Newspapers.com.

This is even before you take out a free trial that gives you full access to the content.  

In general, you should start with broad searches and then start narrowing down within the results.

The Newspaper.com search interface takes a little getting used to. There’s a lot going on within a single page, with different sections letting you filter in different ways.

Personally, I like to start with a surname and State. This will throw up tens of thousands of results, which now need to be filtered for relevance to your family tree.

Using the date slider

I don’t put dates into the initial search, as I like to see the volume of results across centuries.

You can see the actual numbers if you hover over specific points on the line graph.

What’s so special about 1922? That’s about the cut-off point from which U.S. newspapers are in or out of copyright.

In general, if you want access on Newspapers.com to content past this point, you’ll probably need the premium access level. In contrast, if you can do all your research using content before 1922, then the basic access will probably be enough.

I can move the date slider on the right-hand side to filter out search results past 1922. That way I can see what I’d get on the Basic level.

Evaluating what’s available using the free images

Some image snippets will clearly show that the result is not relevant.

For example, the first image below mentions the “Willougby children” while the second image mentions “Mr. Willoughby Vane”. My search was for the surname of Willoughby, so I know immediately that the second result is irrelevant to me.

If I knew a branch of the Willougby family was residing in Red Bank in 1896, then I’d make a note about this entry as of possible interest.

At this point, I can’t read the full article because I haven’t signed up for the trial. I’m just figuring out if there are enough good hits to make it worth my while.

In general, three or four possibilities like this would make me jump into the trial subscription. Some will be duds (i.e. not my relatives), but even one or two good articles would be fantastic.

And if there are only one or two pieces of content across the entire archive, then I will finish all my research within the trial period – for free!

Be cautious about filtering on obituaries or marriages

You can use the “Result Type” dropdown to filter the search results to Obituaries or Marriages.

I prefer not to rely on the search technology to get this right. Take a look at these filtered results:

Newspapers.com helpfully extracts the names and residence details from the image. However, the OCR technology often gets it wrong.

Who the heck are A Villoi Rhby and Mnatb Bob?

Clearly, this is a poor transcription of the names. That’s a common technical problem with OCR and old newspapers – and all the other newspaper sites have similar issues.

I can take an educated guess (that comes with experience of running newspaper searches). I’ve no idea about Mnatb Bob. But I’ll bet that A Villoi Rhby is actually A Willougby.

And as the residence is Westfield where I know my Willoughby branch resided, I’m getting very excited indeed.

Why general searches can be better than focusing on specific newspapers

In the previous section on browsing by geography, I only identified one newspaper from a town that was adjacent to where my target relatives lived.

But the general Search results gave me a relevant obituary from the Courier-News of Bridgewater, New Jersey. When I look at a map, that town is a little further away.

Someone from New Jersey would undoubtedly have known to include it as a nearby place, but I missed it as a possibility when using the Browse feature.

This is where running a broad Search brings big benefits.

And be careful if you are restricting your search to within a State. If your relatives lived near a state border, you could be losing out on great results from nearby towns across the state line.

Making The Most Of Your Free Trial On Newspapers.com

The first step to get a trial is to register your email address on the trial sign-up page.

Submitting your email takes you to the trial activation step which requires your credit card details.

Unfortunately, you can’t access the free trial on Newspapers.com without providing a credit card.

This is annoying, but I can confirm that it’s the same situation with the other big two U.S. sites: GenealogyBank and NewspaperArchive.com.

Don’t forget to cancel your trial to avoid rolling into the payment period. Newspapers.com has two tiers of subscription, and they will charge you at the higher rate if you don’t jump overboard.

Using A Hit List From Your Family Tree

It’s very easy to go chasing squirrels during your trial period. You come across an article or obituary that lists new names and places that are ripe for research.

You can spend many evenings working on the leads from a single article. But if you’re not careful, the trial period will be up and you still won’t be sure whether you’ll need a month’s subscription or a year.

I advise you to work quickly down a target list of names and places. As you find interesting articles, put a tick or a note beside the name on your list. And move on to the next target.

Here’s an excerpt from my list. I’ve put a short note against each line to remind myself of the content I turned up during the trial.

hit list showing name, death date, location, and column for marking if found or not

Is The Free Trial Easy To Cancel?

People get worried that they’ll end up paying the full amount, even though they’ve canceled the free trial.

I’ve tested the cancellation in 2021 and there was no issue. You just have to remember to cancel the trial! If you take no action to do so, your credit card will be charged.

What if you forget? Here’s a top tip!

Ancestry.com is the parent company of Newspapers.com. And Ancestry is an accredited member of the Better Business Bureau.

They respond to complaints on the BBB site, and I notice that they have refunded subscriptions when people forget to cancel and are a few days over the deadline.

I advise you to contact the Newspapers.com support team first. If you don’t have joy, then the BBB is an option.

International Newspapers

The archive is predominantly U.S.-based, but it does have newspapers from a small number of other countries:

You can see the list of countries on the Browse page – available from the link in the top menu.

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • England
  • Scotland
  • Wales
  • Northern Ireland
  • Ireland
  • Panama

Panama seems like such an outlier! Did they find the collection in someone’s attic?

I’m most familiar with Irish newspapers, so I’ll comment on that collection.

Ireland collection

They have an almost random collection of 18th and 19th-century newspapers from eight of the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland.

It’s definitely worth searching through for your Irish ancestors – if you are taking a subscription mostly for U.S. newspapers. Consider the collection as an added bonus.

If you need a more comprehensive collection of Irish newspapers, then my preferred site is the Irish Newspaper Archives website.

It has most Irish newspapers with the notable exception of the Irish Times (a national newspaper that runs to this day).

United Kingdom collection

Like the Irish collection, consider the UK collection as an added bonus to your U.S.-focused research.

The most comprehensive online archive of UK newspapers is run as a collaboration between genealogy company FindMyPast and the British National Library.

You can check out my review of the British Newspaper Archive, which gives plenty of tips for using free searches to evaluate whether there is good content for your family tree.

Customer Service

The most common complaint I hear about Newspapers.com is that it operates a two-tier access level. People sign up on the lower level and are dismayed that they are blocked from seeing a lot of the content.

I’ve written about this extensively in an article that goes through the different subscription options to get the best value out of Newspapers.com and Ancestry.

Other than that, the company is the only one of the top three U.S. newspaper archives that have telephone support. You can also use their contact form to send a message.

Free And Paid Alternatives

Kenneth Marks has a good list of free collections on his website. You will also find a list of free U.S. newspaper collections on this FamilySearch wiki page.

Newspapers.com has two major commercial rivals. I have a round-up comparison review of the three best U.S. newspaper archives.

You can also check out our detailed reviews that are full of tips on making full use of the sites:

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