Historic newspapers are going digital

Are you trying to research an obscure person or subject? Have you tried searching in historic newspapers? Newspapers have been published in the United States since 1690, and have long served as a primary method of communication. In my own research, I have found that historic newspapers often provide information where other sources fail, or provide details that you cannot find anywhere else. Newspapers can be particularly helpful in genealogical research, providing a record of births, marriages, and death notices before the state was keeping track of such information. Newspapers also recorded family events such as wedding announcements, anniversaries, and reunions.

Many historic newspapers are now being digitized, and—with the power of keyword searching that a digital environment provides—becoming more accessible to researchers than ever before.  The Library of Congress is leading the way in digitizing the nation’s historic newspapers through its effort Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Chronicling America is a searchable database of U.S. newspapers with descriptive information and select digitization of historic pages. Eventually, Chronicling America will contain digitized newspapers from all U.S. states and territories. Best of all, Chronicling America is freely available to everyone online.

Hopkinsville Kentuckian, 1892

Page from the Hopkinsville Kentuckian, 1892. Available through Chronicling America.

The University of Kentucky was selected as a grant recipient and has contributed much of Kentucky’s newspaper content to Chronicling America. In addition to content contributed to Chronicling America, the University of Kentucky has digitized additional newspapers that are only available through the Kentucky Digital Library. See a list of digitized newspaper titles, including those in Chronicling America and those only in the Kentucky Digital Library. The goal is to eventually have newspapers from all 120 Kentucky counties available in the Kentucky Digital Library.

Other local libraries also provide access to digitized newspapers. Our own library at the Filson subscribes to Genealogy Bank, a newspaper database that indexes over 6,000 historic newspapers from 1690 to present. Newspapers throughout the United States are covered, including approximately 80 titles from Kentucky. Information of particular interest to genealogists can be found through this database, including birth records, marriage and engagement announcements, and obituaries recorded in newspapers throughout the country. Visit the Filson during operating hours to use this database.

The Louisville Free Public Library’s Courier-Journal Historical database provides access to Louisville’s Courier-Journal and its predecessors, and covers the years 1830-1922. (You will need your library card number and password to login from home.) Louisville Free Public Library also provides access to regional newspapers: the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Nashville Tennessean Historical.

Some of Kentucky’s libraries have also created online newspaper indexes. Searching these newspaper indexes will provide citations to newspaper articles on a given person or subject. The Lexington Public Library has an index to many local Lexington newspapers, including the Kentucky Gazette and the Lexington Herald Leader. The Kenton County Public Library has a similar index for some of Northern Kentucky’s historic newspapers.

Even as newspapers today struggle with declining circulation, their historic predecessors are experiencing a renewed viability in historical research.

Jana Meyer

Jana Meyer is an Associate Curator of Collections. She received a degree in History from the University of Louisville and a master's degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Kentucky. Jana specializes in arranging and describing the Filson's manuscript collections. In her free time, she enjoys playing board games and hiking with her husband and three-legged dog, Rascal.

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