NewspaperArchive.com is among the early pioneers that began digitizing millions of newspaper pages and making them available to subscribers over the internet.
Conducting research using newspapers on microfilm used to be a slow, tiring and unpredictable process. The advent of high-speed film scanners and optical character recognition (OCR) software changed all of that, unlocking untold billions of stories from across the centuries. Since 1999, NewspaperArchive.com has developed an expansive collection of online newspapers, making serious research available to anyone with internet access. It claims to have the largest newspaper archive in the world (disputed by the U.S. Better Business Bureau). One thing is clear: NewspaperArchive offers an impressive, searchable collection that covers all 50 United States and 22 countries. That’s more than 7,400 newspaper titles. It adds 80,000 news pages to the collection each day, or about 2.5 million pages each month. The breadth of information would be difficult to overstate: news and feature articles, obituaries, display advertisements, classifieds, marriage announcements, photographs, editorials, immigration arrivals, sports scores, television schedules and more. This gives viewers the opportunity to conduct pinpoint searches by an ancestor’s name, or to follow a major news event like a murder trial day by day, as if they had those old papers delivered to their doors. The coverage for the U.S. is very good, with close to full access across centuries in some markets. The international collection is more scattered and sparse.
Genealogists and other researchers can use basic or advanced searches by first and last name, keywords, exact phrases, date, and location (or combinations thereof). NewspaperArchive also allows simple browsing by date or location, which is especially useful if you know of an event date but don’t have specific names or keywords. We tested the search using some famous historical figures and other lesser-known individuals. A basic search for Harry Truman, the 33rd president of the United States, brought more than 688,000 matches. This stretched from a 1920 article on Army Capt. Harry S. Truman taking part in a Missouri funeral procession to a “Today in History” listing in April 2016. A search for escape artist Harry Houdini returned more than 15,200 results. We clicked on the oldest listing, which purported to be from a Texas newspaper in September 1892, but what we actually got was an article from September 1994. The next result was better: an April 1897 article on Houdini escaping from shackles at a demonstration in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Next we tried a more obscure person: Jenny Justo, a young bootlegger from the U.S. Prohibition era. The search returned 16, results. The first eight were from 1850 and were not our young moonshiner However, there were several articles from Wisconsin, Iowa and Montana featuring the “Queen of the Madison bootleggers.”
The search functions worked well, although it takes some experimentation. Sometimes a search using the first name and last name fields will generate little or nothing, but using an exact-phrase search will yield results. The NewspaperArchive site offers good tools for searching, including the ability to save searches and individual newspaper pages. Some searches can be complicated by character recognition errors, often related to the typography of the old newspapers or poor quality of the original microfilm that was scanned. These issues are common to all newspaper archives. When you get false matches, you just move past them until finding pages with the content you want. The site offers users ability to conduct weekly automated searches using custom search criteria. This is useful, since NewspaperArchive adds some 80,000 pages a day to the collection.
The web site has a well-organized, pleasing design, so there are no issues finding the tools you need to conduct searches. It’s a very clean process to conduct searches, refine the results and review individual matches. Where the site falls down a bit is on the page viewer used to read individual newspaper pages. NewspaperArchive provides two file formats for viewing documents: JPEG (a photographic image) or PDF. The PDF viewer suffices for magnifying the pages enough to see if the content is something you want to save. But to select and crop portions of the page, or print individual stories, you must use the JPEG viewer. We found it regularly exhibited quirky behavior.
If you have a scroll wheel on your computer mouse or if you scroll pages using finger swipes, the viewer often will zoom to maximum magnification, then zoom back to original settings without warning. This presents a terrible distraction when trying to read an article. This odd behavior occurred even when our hand was not on the mouse. The viewer also took upwards of 20 seconds to load each page image, even on a high-speed internet connection. This is a maddeningly long time. The viewer has a nice palette of tools for selecting and cropping sections of the newspaper page, but the crop tool is buggy and sometimes gets stuck (with the progress wheel going around and never stopping). These glitches are a drawback and limit the usefulness of the site. We tested on several different browsers, but had the same problems on each.
The strength of NewspaperArchive is in the content it provides, and the search engine that brings the information to light. The web site is built around this, without a lot of bells and whistles. This is a good thing, as it allows researchers to find what they need without a steep learning curve. One of the nicest features allows you to order a 22-by-30 inch reproduction of any newspaper page for around $30 (plus shipping). If you had an ancestor who made big news, this feature will definitely appeal to you. NewspaperArchive has a collection of topical pages (World War II, sinking of the Titanic, Battle of Gettysburg, etc.) from which you can order reproductions. The site has a special section where you can browse historic coverage of sports, movies, natural disasters, business, wars and famous people. These are fun pages to browse, and might provide some inspiration for further searching
It’s not all newspapers on the site, either. Genealogists can search the U.S. Social Security Death Index of nearly 95 million death records from 1937 onward. A dedicated obituary search engine scans millions of obituaries, with 400,000 obits added each week. The site’s clippings feature allows you to browse through articles, photos, ads and other items clipped by NewspaperArchive users. If you find something interesting, you can re-clip it to your own folder, print it, download it, post it to social media or send it to a friend via email.
Monthly subscription – $29.95 USD (unlimited)
Quarterly subscription - $29.95 (limited viewing)
Semi-annual subscription - $49.95 (limited viewing), $99.95 (unlimited)
Annual subscription - $79.95 (limited viewing)
There are two tiers of membership pricing: regular and unlimited. Regular accounts ($29.95 quarterly, $49.95 semi-annual or $79.95) are of very little use since they limit users to 25 page views per month. Someone doing serious genealogy research will burn through that in an hour. To get the best utility from NewspaperArchive, go straight to the unlimited plans ($29.95 per month or $99.95 for six months). If you’re going to pay for a service, don’t tie yourself with a limited ability to look at the content. There is a seven-day money-back guarantee on regular memberships, a 14-day guarantee on a monthly unlimited plan and 30 days on a semi-annual unlimited plan.
For anyone who wants to try the site without risk, you can find NewspaperArchive.com free in many public libraries, university libraries or research institutions. The academic library version has most of the key functions of the membership plans, but does not include features such as browsing others’ clippings or viewing the site’s own collections of historical events and people.
Given the sheer mass of its collections, NewspaperArchive is a tool genealogists will want to use. Despite the annoying behavior of the page-viewing tool, the site overall is a serious research platform. It has great potential, but also a troubling track record that earned it an “F” grade from the Better Business Bureau. One can hope the troubles are in the past. NewspaperArchive is an important resource that should not be squandered on issues that can be easily fixed.