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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Newspaper Records by Ryan Taylor, revised by Susanna de Groot, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Finding and Using the Newspaper You Want
A researcher who has decided to begin doing newspaper research should start by ensuring they know as much as possible about the area where the family lived. This geographic research is basic to so much other genealogical searching.
Understanding the geography means that you are able to make informed judgements about what church records, tax records, business records, sometimes even what vital records to consult. Knowledge of roads, rivers and railways will lead to records which may not immediately be of obvious value.
It is not enough to know that the family lived ‘near Bathurst’. Determine the exact location of the farm from deeds or tax records. From there, look at a map. Locate the farm and then search around it to see what towns are within easy communicating distance. Do not assume you know the area so well you do not need to look at a map. There are always new things to learn.
Use a newspaper directory to see which towns had newspapers in the period which interests you. You now have a particular newspaper to look for.
The directories also list the names of libraries or archives which hold microfilm or original copies. These listings may not be exhaustive; they may simply be representative, which means they tell some places housing copies, but not all. There may be other institutions which are more convenient to you where you can obtain the newspaper.
You may also want to see if there are indexes available, or published extracts from the newspaper which will help you in locating information about your family members.
Some things to consider
- What library or archive has the title you want? Does it have the years you need or only a partial run? What rules do the archives have for accessing the newspaper?
- In searching for the newspaper, have you kept in mind any name changes which might have occurred throughout its life?
- Is there an index or extraction, either in book form or online?
- Might the microfilm be available through interlibrary loan?
The likely places to find newspapers are at the provincial archives or libraries, most of which have large newspaper collections. They may not be the most convenient place for you to visit, but they may be a good place to start when searching for a title.
Even if they do not have the relevant newspaper in their collection, an archivist will be able to steer you toward an institution which is likely to hold it. If you live far away, you can use their email reference service to ask their advice about finding any particular title.
Secondly, a local archive or library is likely to own newspapers from their own area. These archives are also likely to know more about the history of the newspaper and its availability than anywhere else, as they do about other aspects of their local history.
Keep in mind that with the extensive microfilming projects of the past decades, even small-town newspapers can be found in large libraries elsewhere. Large-city public libraries, such as the Toronto Reference Library or the Vancouver Public Library, own newspapers from throughout their provinces, and most university libraries have newspapers from their region.
As well as the province-wide directories mentioned earlier, there might be studies examining newspaper resources for a given area. These are invaluable for the genealogist. They may be in book form, such as Bill and Marie Amell’s Reference guide to newspapers of the old Newcastle District, published by Kawartha Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society. More likely, they may be in the form of articles in genealogical or historical journals. Ask locally if such a study has been published.
When examining listings of newspaper holdings, be sure to determine if there is a long run or only one or two copies or years. Researchers in a hurry often note that a particular archives has the title, without remembering that many libraries have only a single issue which someone has given them.
In one example of how to read a newspaper catalogue, the British Columbia archives had only the 13 April 1907 copy of the Bulkley Pioneer in paper copy; researchers have to go to the catalogue entry for the microform to find that the archives also owns a complete run of the microfilm.
Newspaper directories may note title changes, but also may not. Newspaper histories can be found in the provincial volumes, but histories of particular papers are also popular topics for local historical journals and for local histories.
A quick check in a local history may provide a list of all the newspaper titles over the years, which will help in searching library catalogues either for copies of microfilm or indexes.
The advent of online searching has made finding collections of newspapers much easier. Most large libraries now make their catalogues available at their websites, as do many archives. (Archival catalogue searching is more difficult because each archival item can be catalogued individually, making a huge database, while library catalogues list whole books.)
Thus you can locate an individual university website, access the catalogue and check to see if the newspaper microfilm you need is listed.
|Verify if microfilm holdings are included in the catalogue you are using. Not all libraries include microfilm in their book catalogues. There may be a separate listing elsewhere on the website. You should also be prepared to find that there is no listing available in any form, as at the University of British Columbia.|
As well as published newspaper directories, it is possible to find both microform newspapers and their indexes by using a large database.
WorldCat is a catalogue which combines the library catalogues of hundreds of libraries around the world, including the national libraries of Canada, the United States, Great Britain and Australia.
The information on WorldCat is valuable for genealogists because, by searching there, researchers can determine:
- whether microfilm of a newspaper exists
- the exact title of the newspaper, and often its years of publication
- what the preceding and succeeding titles were
- who owns the microfilm in question
Libraries listed on WorldCat tend to be large, including academic, public and specialised institutions. Do not expect a small local library to be found there.
Search on WorldCat using the name of the newspaper, if known, or the name of the place of publication as a keyword title search. It is important to remember that copies of newspaper microfilm are catalogued by libraries under the exact contemporary title of the newspaper. Each time the title changes, there will be a new catalogue entry.
These title changes should be linked in the catalogue entry by notes indicating the preceding and/or succeeding titles, but much depends on the quality of the cataloguing involved.
Read the whole catalogue entry carefully to see if you can learn anything about changes in the newspaper’s title or history which may help you in finding it for research purposes.
You may also find that groups of libraries or archives in your area may have combined their catalogues so you can make a similar search for a newspaper in those databases.
They may also have created an online list of newspapers or newspapers and other periodicals for the same purpose. This is called a Union List, which means it is a union of a number of institutions’ catalogues. Union lists are always useful for researchers.
The quickest way to determine if there is a union list or a regional catalogue of newspapers may be to ask your local public librarian. The all-Canada union list is mentioned below, under the Library and Archives Canada.
For rural families, keep in mind that they might use the newspaper of the largest close town for publishing their BMDs. Using your geographical knowledge, check those papers as well. In Nova Scotia, for example, the principal papers outside Halifax were in Yarmouth, Pictou and Sydney.
Since a good place to start searching for newspapers is the provincial archives, here is a list of them with particular emphasis on newspaper holdings.
Even if the principal provincial newspaper collection is in a neighbouring library, the provincial archives’ address is given for reference purposes, along with the relevant library:
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Newspaper Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.