Using Newspapers for Genealogical Research


A good obituary provides the genealogist a biographical sketch with factual information and some insight into the personality of the deceased.  Some nineteenth-century newspapers routinely published full obituaries for local residents; others printed only brief  notices unless the deceased was a prominent citizen or if the family paid to have the obit printed.  Current daily newspapers of large cities usually print only a few lines about the deceased, but obituaries in small town newspapers are generally longer.  Obituaries will be found in various parts of newspapers.  Some papers have special pages or column headings, but most of the time you will need to scan all of the paper.  Keep in mind that obituaries can appear weeks after the actual date of death.  Set aside enough time for research, especially if you do not have specific information about the date.


Births were not commonly reported in nineteenth-century newspapers.  During the early 1900s, the printing of birth announcements in local papers gradually became a popular custom.  Most current newspapers publish notices of births, usually under that heading or placed in columns of local news.


Nineteenth-century newspapers in Missouri usually printed news concerning nuptial agreements.  Marriages appeared under that caption or within columns of local news.   You might find column listings for couples who had applied for marriage licenses, and separate announcements reporting marriages that had taken place.  If a couple reached their 50th anniversary, this milestone may also be noted in the newspaper.


Legal notices concerning estates may indicate death dates and heirs.  Court dockets, lists of taxpayers, subscribers, county fair prize winners, etc., can be helpful in establishing the residence of persons at particular times.

It is often rewarding to search several years of local news about the community where your family lived.  Not only can facts be deduced ("Mr. and Mrs. Joseph C. Dover took Sunday dinner with their daughter Mrs. Ed Brown" indicates that Mrs. Brown's maiden name was Dover), but details about the community and the lives of family members can add color and interest to a family history.

If newspapers for the time and place you need are not available, investigate the possibility that later papers printed items from their back files in 50- or 25- or 10-Years-Ago columns.


Visiting patrons can make their own copies from the microfilm for $.25 per copy.   The Newspaper Library provides a copy service for $.50 per image. Same-day service is not available for staff-made copies, but items can be mailed upon request. For more information please consult our photocopying policies.


Because newspaper articles can be used as evidence to support genealogical conclusions, it is important to keep a complete and accurate citation on all copies or transcriptions.   Make certain you record the title of the newspaper, its place of publication, the date of the issue, and the page number.

To preserve your own newspaper clippings for genealogical purposes, glue or tape a small piece of paper on the back extending beyond the text.  Write on that paper the complete citation. Since modern newspapers deteriorate very rapidly, mount and photocopy those clippings you want to preserve.