Last September, Google rolled out its "200-year" News Archive Search, offering full-text content from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and third-party sources such as LexisNexis, HighBeam, and Thomson Gale. You can search the News Archive at http://news.google.com/archivesearch, or by clicking the "News archive search" on the Google News web page. If Google detects that your regular web search query would retrieve archived articles, it sometimes even includes those in the search results page.
Be aware, however, that the "200-year" search is a bit less than what you might assume. In this case, it means, "up to 200 years." In fact, only a handful of 200-year-old newspapers are available. Most of the searches are conducted in newspapers ten years old or less. Still, if you are looking for specific information from older newspapers, you should check the Google News Archive. You never know what it will find.
The Google News Archive is available free of charge. However, much of the information it finds resides on commercial services that charge fees for access. That is, you can search for free, but you may have to pay one of the database services to read the full articles.
In my searches I found a mix of free articles as well as others that require payment of $5.00 to $50.00 to retrieve the full article. (The $50.00 charge is mostly for very specialized investment analyses, market research reports, and other high-end content, sold through Alacra. I doubt if you will ever find any genealogy information in these more expensive reports.)
The search screens for the News Archive are virtually the same as the regular Google News search. The only difference is that the Archive search includes the option to limit the results either to free articles or to articles costing less than $5, $10, or $50.
The search results page differs from the usual Google search results format. The default is to sort the results by relevance. Hyperlinked dates appear along the left margin, clustering the results by year. You can also see the results sorted by year if you click the "Show timeline" link on the search page or at the top of any search results page.
I tried a search for some of my ancestors' names but had very little luck at first. There were far too many occurrences of these relatively common surnames. However, when I started specifying the same names and the various small towns in which my ancestors lived, the results became far more interesting. There were references to my great-grandfather's prize-winning cattle at the county fair, a great-uncle's performance in an orchestra, and more.
I found many newspaper articles to be available free of charge. However, almost all of the references to articles of 100 years ago or older required payment to read the full articles. Many required a subscription to NewspaperArchive.com, which is advertised as being available for $7.95 a month. I felt that was a bit misleading as there is no monthly subscription option. NewspaperArchive.com is available for $95 per year. Divide that by twelve, and you have the $7.95 a month figure. However, you must subscribe for a minimum of twelve months.
NOTE: I later discovered that NewspaperArchive.com is available free of charge at many public libraries. I have a library card at a nearby library that offers in-home remote access. I can access the online databases from my home by logging onto the library's web site, entering my library card number, and then using the library's gateway to access external databases. In effect, I was able to access the newspaper articles at no charge but had to go through several steps to finally read the articles of interest.
I also found numerous "broken links" and other errors within the Google News Archive. I often encountered an error of "Server Error in '/' Application." While it is officially released, Google News Archive gives the appearance of being a beta product.
Google News Archive is a great service, even with the minor drawbacks I have mentioned. It is not a competitor to the expensive services, such as Factiva or LexisNexis, but it can sometimes locate and provide free or low-cost access to newspaper articles of interest.
I would suggest that you consider using Google News Archive to supplement the resources of your local library.
You can access the Google News Archive at http://news.google.com/archivesearch.