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.
If you’ve ever used the Periodical Source Index (PERSI), you know what a genealogy gem it is. PERSI is a master index to thousands of genealogical and historical periodicals, published by the Allen County Public Library’s Genealogy Center (ACPL). According to the Journal Gazette, PERSI contains about 2.5 million citation and adds another 100,000 a year. This is where you go to see if someone’s written about your family or ancestral hometown in state, regional, ethnic, local and other journals and newsletters.
You can currently search PERSI through the HeritageQuest Online databases at your local library and with your Ancestry.com membership. But the trick is accessing those articles once you find them. The best way right now is to order them directly from ACPL (click on Article Fulfillment Form). It costs $7.50 USD to order up to 6 articles at a time, plus $.20 per page and you get the articles in the mail.
Now findmypast.com has big plans to make PERSI easier to use. Findmypast.com is becoming the new online host of PERSI, and they plan to link digital images of as many articles as possible to the index. “PERSI unearths hidden gems for genealogy researchers,” says D. Joshua Taylor, lead genealogist for findmypast.com. “We look forward to working with various societies and publications to get permission to digitize their articles.”
That sounds like an enormous undertaking, but certainly one that’s long overdue and will pay off for family history researchers. I’ll keep you posted on their progress!
The online Atlas of Historical County Boundaries is a go-to resource for determining old U.S. county boundaries.
The atlas of historical county boundaries
How to find county boundaries with the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries in three steps
1. From the Atlas home page, click on the state of interest from the national interactive map.
2. From the state page, click on View Index of Counties and Equivalents. This will show you all current and past county names.
3. From this page, click on your targeted county. You’ll find a timeline of that county’s boundary changes.
Use the timeline to discover what county your ancestors belonged to at any given time. Perhaps you’ll discover you should actually be looking for an ancestor’s marriage record or probate in a parent county, one that existed there before the current county, or in a successor county later carved out of this one.
Google Earth Bonus: The Atlas of Historical Boundary Changes state pages include downloadable maps compatible with Google Earth and Google Maps. If you are not using Google Earth for genealogy yet, watch Lisa Louise Cooke’s free video to see how and why you want to use this amazing 3D map of the world for your family history! You can learn more about downloading the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries files to Google Earth in Lisa’s book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.
Learn More about Using Interactive Maps for Genealogy
Three ways to watch: 1. Video Player (Live) – Watch live at the appointed time in the video player above. 2. On YouTube (Live) – Click the Watch on YouTube button to watch live at the appointed time at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. Log into YouTube with your free Google account to participate in the live chat. 3. Video Player above (Replay) – Available immediately after the live premiere and chat.
Episode 71 Show Notes
Family History really comes alive when you can see actual faces and places, and that’s why the new photographic collection at Findmypast is so exciting. They’ve just added over 300,000 historical photographs chronicling more than a century of British life to their website. And these photos don’t just cover the UK – you can find images from other locations around the world as well.
Findmypast published these photos in partnership with Francis Frith, the UK’s leading publisher of local photographs since 1860, and they’re available to search online at Findmypast for the first time.
I’ve invited Alex Cox from Findmypast to join us today to tell us about the collection, the history, the scope and most importantly the best strategies for finding just the image you’re looking for.
About Francis Frith
From the folks at Findmypast: “Born into a Quaker family in 1822 in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, Francis Frith was a complex and multi-talented man who had a formidable instinct for business. After becoming a founding member of the Liverpool Photographic Society in 1853 – only 14 years after the invention of photography – he founded his own photographic publishing company in 1860 with the aim of creating accurate and truthful depictions of as many cities, towns and villages as possible.
Francis Frith, 1854 (public domain)
Copies of Frith’s photographs proved immensely popular with the general public. Thanks to the rapid expansion of the Victorian railway system, Britons were now travelling in greater numbers than ever before, fueling a huge demand for photographic souvenirs.
To help meet this demand, Frith employed a team of company photographers who were trained to capture images of the highest quality according to his strict specifications.
Manchester Saint Anns Square,1876
By the 1870s, the market for Frith & Co’s products was huge, especially after Bank Holidays and half-day Saturdays were made obligatory by Act of Parliament in 1871. By 1890 Frith had succeeded in creating the first and greatest specialist photographic publishing company in the world, with over 2,000 retail stockists.”
The Scope of The Francis Frith Collection
300,000 historical photographs
UK, Ireland and beyond
covering more than 9,000 cities, towns and villages across the UK and Ireland
wide variety of images captured overseas. Egypt, Canada, France, Germany Gibraltar, Hawaii, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, and the United States.
1860 to 1970
scenes of daily life – people, places, occupations, things
Victorian, Edwardian and 20thcentury Britain.
Lowestoft Punch and Judy Childrens Corner, 1952
Using the Photograph Transcriptions
Each photo comes with a transcription that is worth a look. You’ll find the transcription icon (it looks like a page) next to the image icon. The transcription provides information about the photo such as:
Country and place
Latitude and longitude
Link to the original photo on the source website (Francis Frith)
The Francis Frith photos are a great way to see how an area has changed over time. Copy latitude and longitude numbers found on the transcription page and then paste them into Google Earth to see the approximate location where the image was taken. Next, use Google Earth’s Street View to see the location up close today. You can save a high-resolution image of the location to your computer for comparison with the photo by clicking the SaveImage button in Google Earth’s toolbar at the top of the screen. I love using Snagit to clip and annotate the image more precisely. (Learn more about it by watching episode 61. There you’ll also find out link and current discount code for Snagit.)
Learn more about using Google Earth for genealogy by watching myfree class.
How to Browse the Photographs
Sometimes you just want to leisurely browse the photos for a given area. Here’s how to brows the Francis Frith Photo Collection at Findmypast:
Start by searching on the general location.
Click any image.
Thumbnail images will appear at the bottom, all from the same series of photos.
An “eye” icon will appear on the thumbnail of the image currently being viewed.
Click the images on either side to scroll through and browse the series.
How to browse the Francis Frith photo collection at Findmypast
Frith Photos Search Strategies
Lisa’s Tip: If your ancestors sailed from a British port, search the collection to see what it looked like at that time.
“Be clever with your keywords.” Alex Cox, Findmypast
Alex recommends that before you start to search, look up the locations of your ancestors on a map. Have a look at the area. Doing so may provide additional ideas for your searches.
In addition to searching for locations, use the keyword search field to search for words describing elements of your ancestors’ lives. Try words like:
Use the distance slider to expand and narrow your search geographically. Keep in mind that 10 miles on either side of your ancestors’ town really isn’t that far. By expanding your search with the distance slider, you might be able to find helpful representative images, even if they don’t include your ancestors’ exact village or business.
Usage of the Frith Photographs
We’re all mindful about copyright, so Alex and Lisa discussed the rules around the usage of these images in our family history work. Alex says you are welcome to use the Francis Frith images (which include small watermarks and a copyright statement) in a variety of ways for your family history.
Here are just a few ideas on how to use the photos:
Add them to your family tree
If you find a location in another genealogical record, look up the location in the Frith Collection
Use them in your family history storytelling (videos, books, presentations, etc.)
How to purchase a high-resolution watermark-free version
In each image transcript you’ll find a link to the original source image on the Francis Frith Collection website. Click it, and it will take you to the Frith website. There you can purchase a clean (without watermarks), high-quality version suitable for printing.