What did your relatives experience during World War II? Look for answers with these step-by-step instructions for finding WWII newspaper content and tips for searching about the war progress in the 1940s.
We have covered so many gripping and inspiring World War II stories in recent months (such as this one), it makes me want to learn more about what happened to my own family. Newspapers are the first place I look for everyday news happenings. But for the 1940s, newspapers in the U.S. and some other places are still copyright-protected–meaning not so widely available online for free–and of course, millions of local newspaper pages are not digitized online yet.
Try these 3 steps for finding and accessing 1940s newspaper content:
1. Understand what WWII newspapers may be available online
The major U.S. site for free digitized newspaper content, Chronicling America, recently started allowing post-1922 news, but it will take a while for copyright-cleared issues to post to the site (read more here.) Various state or local collections may vary; for example, the free Colorado Historical Newspaper Collection does have some WWII-era coverage.
2. Explore premium and institutional databases for WWII newspapers
Start with digital newspaper content at free sites and subscription sites to which you have access. Then follow up with a trip to your local library, which likely offers additional historical newspaper databases. For example, in the U.S., these may include Access NewspaperARCHIVE, America’s GenealogyBank, America’s Historical Newspapers, America’s News, Newspaper Source, and ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Sometimes, you can access these databases from home with your library card log-in; if not, you’ll have to go to the library. (Genealogy Gems Premium members: check out Premium Podcast episode #125 for more great genealogical resources at public libraries.)
In the U.S., even these databases may only have limited coverage, such as titles from major cities for the 1940s. ProQuest Historical Newspapers has the Atlanta Constitution, Baltimore Sun, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. Though these may not give you small-town details and perspectives on your own family, you will get a sense of the progress of the war from the perspective of those who were living through it, and how the public was responding.
3. Search for individual WWII newspapers
If you can’t find digitized content you want, widen your net. Search for titles of all active newspapers in your family’s city during the war. In the U.S., do that with the U.S. Newspaper Directory on Chronicling America. The same directory links to thousands of library holdings. WorldCat.org has even more; run a follow-up search here on any titles you don’t see holdings for on Chronicling America. If you’re local to where your family lived or can visit there, you may find copies at the public library. If you’re not local, you may have to try to order microfilmed copies through interlibrary loan. Ask your local Reference Librarian for assistance.
Next, Google search for individual newspaper titles online. Though no longer actively digitizing and indexing newspapers, Google News Archive can help you locate online content for specific newspapers. Click here to access its alphabetical listing of newspapers. You can also enter keyword-searches in the search box on that webpage for all the newspapers listed there.
As needed, run a follow-up Google search using the newspaper title, city, state, and date range; for the latter, use the format “1941..1945” with two periods between the dates and no spaces. This helps to filter your date range to these specific years.
My book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers is your ultimate guide to this topic, with tons of step-by-step instructions, online resources, and finding strategies. And, stay tuned for our up and coming post “Finding Family History in WWII Newspapers: Narrowing the Results” for more instructions on digitally searching WWII newspapers for war-related stories.
Chronicling America has added four more states to its coverage–and opened the door to 150+ additional years of newspaper coverage.
Chronicling America is the Library of Congress’ online portal for digitized newspapers. Here you can search nearly 11.4 million pages of historical U.S. newspapers for free. There’s more good news: the site has added four new states to its list of contributors. and now allows partners to contribute much older–and newer–content.
Four new state partners were recent awarded funding to contribute content: Alaska, Colorado, Maine and New Jersey. The organizations representing each state will curate, digitize and contribute content they think best represents the historical variety and diversity of their respective states. Watch for newspaper pages from these states to appear beginning in 2017.
The span of digital newspapers coverage at Chronicling America has also expanded. Until now, you could only do full-text searches of papers dating from 1836 to 1922. But in July, a press release announced that the site now accepts content dating back to 1690, when the first U.S. paper appeared, and forward nearly a half-century to 1963.
Previously, digitized papers were cut off at 1922. A press release explains that “…anything published before 1923 is in the public domain. From 1923 to 1963, materials fell into the public domain if their publishers did not renew their copyrights. This means that digitized newspapers published from 1923 to 1963 may be added to Chronicling America if state partners can prove that the newspapers are not under copyright.”
The National Gazette, 23 April 1792. Online at Chronicling America; click to view.
It will take about a year for states to start adding older or newer papers, if they choose. But the Library of Congress has already started. It’s published a new collection of papers from the Federalist era, or the first three U.S. presidencies. This is more of a historical contribution than a genealogical one, because the papers are being chosen for what they tell us about politics of the day. Local news and things like births, marriages and deaths weren’t as commonly reported back then, anyway. But the Library of Congress will also be adding recent newspapers from the Washington, D.C. era in the near future.
In other words, Chronicling America digitized newspaper content continues to grow. Keep checking back for mentions of your ancestors and their stories!
Read the scoop on using newspapers for genealogy in Lisa Louise Cooke’s book How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Newspapers, available in print and in e-book format. You’ll learn what kinds of information you might discover (way more than obituaries!) and where to look for online and offline newspaper sources. Packed with helpful worksheets and directories of online newspaper resources, both free and subscription-based.
Here’s a 10-minute video lecture on Chronicling America: what it is and how to use it:
The Library of Congress (LOC) is a dream destination for many U.S. genealogy researchers, but most of us can’t get there in person. Here are 4 ways–all online–to access the mega-resources of the Library of Congress for genealogy.
1. World Digital Library: for the bigger picture
The Library of Congress is home to the World Digital Library, “a collaborative international project led by the Library of Congress. It now includes more than 10,000 manuscripts, maps and atlases, books, prints and photographs, films, sound recordings, and other cultural treasures.
2. Chronicling America: for finding ancestors in the news
The Chronicling America newspaper site, hosted by the Library of Congress, catalogs U.S. newspapers and provides free access to more than six million digital newspaper pages (1836-1922) in multiple languages. Run searches on the people, places and events that shaped your ancestors’ lives. Results may include:
Advertising: classifieds, companies your ancestor worked for or owned, store ads, runaway slaves searches and rewards and ship arrivals or departures.
Births & deaths: birth announcements, cards of thanks printed by the family, obituaries and death notices, funeral notices, reporting of events that led to the death, etc.
Legal notices and public announcements: auctions, bankruptcies, city council meetings, divorce filings, estate sales, executions and punishments, lawsuits, marriage licenses, probate notices, tax seizures, sheriff’s sale lists.
Lists: disaster victims, hotel registrations, juror’s and judicial reporting, letters left in the post office, military lists, newly naturalized citizens, passenger lists (immigrants and travelers), unclaimed mail notices.
News articles: accidents, fires, etc. featuring your ancestor; front page (for the big picture); industry news (related to occupations); natural disasters in the area; shipping news; social history articles.
Community and social events like school graduations, honor rolls, sporting and theater events; social news like anniversaries, church events, clubs, engagements, family reunions, visiting relatives, parties, travel, gossip columns, illnesses, weddings and marriage announcements.
With Chronicling America, you can also buy medicine online china subscribe to receive “old news” on many of your favorite historical topics. Sign up for weekly notifications that highlight interesting and newly-added content on topics that were widely covered in the U.S. press at the time. (Click here to see a list of topics.) To subscribe, just use the icons at the bottom of the Chronicling America home page.
3. Flickr Creative Commons – Library of Congress Photostream for old pictures
Flickr Creative Commons describes itself as part of a “worldwide movement for sharing historical and out-of-copyright images.” Groups and individuals alike upload old images, tag and source them, and make them available to others. The (U.S.) Library of Congress photostream has thousands of photos and a growing collection of front pages of newspapers.
Tip: The Library of Congress isn’t the only library posting cool images on Flickr Creative Commons. Look for photostreams from your other favorite libraries and historical societies. (Use the main search box with words like “Ohio library” and limit results to groups. You’ll see who’s posting images you care about and you can even follow them!)
4. Preserving Your History video for archiving your family history
The Library of Congress has a FREE video about how to create and properly preserve digital or print archival scrapbooks.
It’s a 72-minute video by various experts with a downloadable transcript on these topics:
Basic preservation measures one can do at home for long-lasting albums and scrapbooks
Pros and cons of dismantling old scrapbooks and albums in poor condition
How to address condition problems
Preservation considerations for digital scrapbooks and albums
How to participate in the Library’s Veterans History Project.
Women of President Taft’s New Official Family at Washington, New York Tribune, March 7, 1909. Cover, illustrated supplement. Library of Congress image, posted at Flickr. Click to visit webpage.
The Library of Congress has a Flickr album that’s front page news–literally! It’s a New York Tribune archive with newspaper covers dating back more than a century.
“This set of cover pages from the New York Tribune illustrated supplements begins with the year 1909,” explains the album. “The pages are derived from the Chronicling America newspaper resource at the Library of Congress. To read the small text letters, just click the persistent URL to reach a zoomable version of the page.”
“Daily newspapers began to feature pictorial sections in the late 1800s when they competed for readers by offering more investigative exposés, illustrations, and cartoons. In the 1890s, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer tapped into new photoengraving techniques to publish halftone photographs, and other newspapers soon adopted the practice. The heavily illustrated supplement sections became the most widely read sections of the papers and provided a great opportunity to attract new customers. The daily life, art, entertainment, politics, and world events displayed in their pages captured the imagination of a curious public.”
We don’t often find our ancestors splashed across front-page news. But we can read over their shoulders, as it were, to see what was going on in their world and what others around them thought about these events. Newspaper articles and ads reveal fashions and fads, prices on everyday items, attitudes about social issues and more. Read all about using old newspapers for family history in How to Find Your Family History in Newspapersby Lisa Louise Cooke.
The Evening World (New York, NY), Sept 10, 1900, Evening Edition, Page 2. Digitized image from Chronicling America.
If you research ancestors in the U.S., you’ve probably already used the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America website for searching digitized newspapers. Now they’ve added a new feature: you can subscribe to receive “old news” on many of your favorite historical topics!
Here’s how it works. You can sign up for weekly notifications that highlight interesting and newly-added content on topics that were widely covered in the U.S. press at the time. (Click here to see a list of topics.)
My favorite family history-related topics are natural disasters (like the Chicago fire or Galveston flood), war topics (from Appomattox to World War I) and civil and human rights events (from the Railroad Strike of 1886 to Ellis Island to coverage of Pullman porters). But there are a lot of topics that might relate to your family: industrialization (electric cars!), arts, sports (think Babe Ruth and the Boston Marathon), major crimes and trials, politics, holidays and public celebrations and public works and technology marvels (like the Panama Canal or Titanic).
Learn more about finding your ancestors in the newspaper in Lisa’s book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers. She walks you through the process of determining which newspapers might mention your ancestors and where to find those papers (both online and offline). You’ll learn in detail about Chronicling America and more about other free and subscription options for searching online newspapers. Best of all, Lisa shares mouthwatering examples from her own research that show you why newspapers can be such a valuable source of information on our family history.