The National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress have partnered to enhance access to historic newspapers for many years with the National Digital Newspaper Program. This long-term effort has developed an Internet-based, searchable database of U.S. newspapers with descriptive information and select digitization of historic pages. Best of all, the information on the National Digital Newspaper Program is available free of charge. At this time, 6,025,474 newspaper pages are available.
The National Digital Newspaper Program is the replacement for the earlier, successful United States Newspaper Program that ran from 1982 to 2009. That was a project sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities with technical support from the Library of Congress which organized the inventory, cataloging, and selective preservation on microfilm of at-risk newspaper materials. While useful to many historians, students, genealogists, and others, the earlier program captured only a limited amount of newspapers. The microfilms were not easily available to everyone, especially in rural locations. In addition, microfilm readers are now becoming harder and harder to find. Finally, duplicating microfilms is becoming more and more difficult as vendors exit the business due to a lack of customers.
The National Digital Newspaper Program has now digitized all the earlier microfilms and then has embarked on an ambitious program to scan and preserve many more newspapers. As a result, many more people will have easy access to this valuable information. The new Program also provides an opportunity for institutions to select and contribute digitized newspaper content, published between 1836 and 1922, to a freely accessible, national newspaper resource.
Since 2005, the National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded grants to state libraries, historical societies, and universities representing states in the national program. These awards are projected to generate more than 5.6 million newspaper pages to be deposited at the Library by the end of 2013, with many more states and territories to be included in the coming years. Over 4 million of these pages are already available through the Chronicling America website.
To access this wealth of information, go to the Chronicling America website at
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/. Once there, you will find a simple search method along with an Advanced Search. I suspect most people will immediately use the simple search shown on the home page to search for names or locations of interest.
Simple search is good for:
- information on persons, places, or events;
- specific topics or news of the day;
- concepts or ideas;
- unique passages of text, such as the source of a frequently-quoted phrase.
- To limit your search to particular geographic area, select one or more States.
- Or, you can limit your search to a particular newspaper, or select several newspapers, picked from the list of titles currently available in Chronicling America.
- In addition or alternatively, you can search the entire date range available (default), or select a specific date and limit your search to a specific year, month, or even day, using the begin date and end date lists provided. (Note: selecting the same begin month/day/year and end month/day/year will provide links to every page available for that specific date.)
- In addition or alternatively, enter a specific search term or terms in the Keyword boxes provided. The operators provided will influence the results of your search significantly and can be used in separate searches or in conjunction within a single search.
- Years (any year(s) from 1836 through 1922)
- Search only front page(s) or entire newspapers
- Language (the National Digital Newspaper Program contains many foreign-language newspapers published within the United States)
- Several Boolean search options (search only specific words, search for ALL words, search for specific phrase, search for words within close proximity). For any options that do not apply to your search, leave the search boxes blank.
Newspaper pages may be viewed online as well as downloaded and stored locally. The images may be stored in PDF or JPEG200 format.
When a newspaper page is displayed, you will see the image of the original page. You can also click on "View Text" to display machine-generated text that is produced by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. OCR is a fully automated process that converts the visual image of numbers and letters into computer-readable numbers and letters. Computer software can then search the OCR-generated text for words, phrases, numbers, or other characters. However, OCR is not 100 percent accurate, and, particularly if the original item has extraneous markings on the page, unusual text styles, or very small fonts, the searchable text OCR generates will contain errors that cannot be corrected by automated means. Digitization of microfilmed newspapers inherently includes a wide range of image quality in the content (quality derived from the original newspaper, the original newspaper when it was microfilmed and associated deterioration, or the film itself.)
The person viewing the newspapers also needs to be aware that spellings and abbreviations have changed over the years. The newspapers always used whatever was common in their areas at the time of publication, not what is used today. For instance, newspapers in Massachusetts often abbreviated that state as "Ms" in the 1800s and well into the 1900s. Newspapers in Mississippi also used the same letters, "Ms," as their commonly-used abbreviation for that state. The current abbreviations of MA for Massachusetts and MS for Mississippi became standardized only when the Post Office introduced ZIP codes in 1963. Even then, the abbreviation for Nebraska was changed again in in 1969, from NB to NE. ("NB" is now the commonly-accepted abbreviation for the Canadian province of New Brunswick.)
Another thing to remember is that newspapers of many years ago did not follow today's "politically correct" words and euphemisms. Do not be surprised if you see words and phrases published that would raise eyebrows today.
All the newspapers in the National Digital Newspaper Program are recorded with the abbreviations, words, and phrases as originally published.
The National Digital Newspaper Program does not cover all newspapers from all states. However, new additions are being made frequently; if you don't find what you want today you might return again in a few months to perform the same search(es) again.
The National Digital Newspaper Program is a great research tool for genealogists, as well as for historians, students, and many others. If you have not yet used it, I suggest you go to http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/ and see for yourself. You certainly cannot beat the price tag: FREE!