Hints: How To Conduct a Successful Search
Local historic newspapers help you track events, issues, first-hand opinions, discoveries, literature and language, people, companies and business, social and cultural history, legal history, history of science and more.
There are several basic questions to consider when conducting a search. Answering these questions, or at least thinking about them, before you begin your research will help you define and refine your searches to achieve the best results.
1. First, decide what your topic is and what keywords are most likely to appear in articles about that topic.
Remember that you are searching in historical material, some going back hundreds of years. The language -- terms and spelling-- used may be different from what we would use today. Consider including alternative spellings and terminology in your search statements, such as honor and honour, Massachusetts and Maffachufetts; guns might be referred to as rifles, muskets, pistols, etc.
If you are searching for an individual by name, consider all possible variations of the name -- last name only, first and last, last with an honorific (Mr., Miss, Mistress, Mrs.), etc. For example, a well-known figure, such as the president, might be referred to as President Lincoln, Mr. Lincoln, Mister Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln. In older newspapers, especially, there were few editorial standards to control how names were presented. Be prepared to try different combinations of terms.
2. Do you know when the event you are researching occurred?
Consider targeting your searches and narrow your results set by using a date limiter. Do not focus your dates too tightly -- remember news coverage was not as immediate as it is today. Consider using a date limiter to help eliminate false hits. For example, a reference to Abraham Lincoln in a Philadelphia newspaper from 1745 will certainly not be about our 16th president!
3. Do you know where the event that you are researching occurred?
Do you know where the person you are researching lived? Choose which newspaper or newspapers are most likely to have the information you are seeking. For example, if you are looking for information on a local political figure search the appropriate local newspapers. If you are researching an issue or event that occurred in a particular place, then your best bet is to search newspapers from that area. News, opinions, and letters about events, issues, or controversies of a broader scope may appear in any of these early American newspapers. As with current newspapers, individual historic newspapers often included articles from other newspapers.