Most people start on their family history by using the census and a variety of vital records to create the outline of their family tree. To add color between the lines you need to look to different sources of information, such as newspapers that were published at the time and in the location where your family lived. Many of these papers catered to the nosiness of their readers by providing details that would only be of interest to friends and neighbors (I actually found my name in a story from 1973 that recounted a trip by my family to visit my grandmother in the hospital), and this resulted in detailed accounts of births, deaths, marriages and the occasional news item.
Paging through physical newspapers is a tedious affair, and working with microfilm isn’t much better. In both cases, you have to know that a particular event occurred during a particular time period and in a particular location. This is why I so enjoy finding a good source for papers that have been digitized and made searchable.
To help you find sources for Delaware papers, DGS has done a survey of what is readily available. This article contains a summary of what we found while a full list of the newspapers available will be printed in the next DGS newsletter.
Genealogy Bank is a subscription service that currently offers a 30-day trial for $9.95 and an annual subscription after the trial for $70. You can also subscribe monthly for $19.95. For your subscription, you get the largest collection of Delaware papers available online.
Newspaper collections can be classified as either ‘Recent’ or ‘Archives’. The recent collections are papers that are currently being published and go back 10 years or so. These are a good source of recent obituaries. Archive collections contain papers that have completed their run and can date back 200 years. Genealogy Bank is the only source that offers both Recent and Archived papers.
Their ‘recent’ collection includes 13 papers, mostly from Kent and Sussex counties. The Wilmington News Journal is missing, but you can always search for recent obituaries (back to 1999) at delawareonline.
Thirty newspapers from all three counties are included in their ‘archive’ collection. As a whole, the collection includes 3058 issues (a paper for a particular date). The oldest is the Delaware Gazette, dating back to June 1785 while their largest collection is the American Watchman (Wilmington), which includes 1514 issues for the period June 1809 through January 1828.
One drawback to this site is that it’s difficult to browse through papers, so you’re dependent on the quality of their optical character recognition and search engine.
Newspaper Archive is another pay service that offers an annual membership for $79.95, with options for semi-annual and quarterly memberships. I have never used this site, but it says that the membership includes “25 page views per month”. I have no idea what happens if you exceed this limit.
This site bills itself as the “World’s Largest Newspaper Archive!”, but it has the second largest collection of Delaware papers that I found, behind Genealogy Bank. Newspaper Archives includes 7 papers, four from Wilmington and one each from Dover, Georgetown and Milford. The papers cover the years 1826-1865, but the four Wilmington papers are only for the period 1826-1830. I found no information on the number of issues or pages available in these papers.
Like the Newspaper Archive, Newspapers.com offers an annual subscription for $79.95. It also offers a monthly subscription for $7.95 and offers a 7-day free trial.
I subscribe to this site, and find it has the most mature search engine and interface. I like the way it allows you to manage and share your clippings. Because the site is owned by Ancestry.com, it’s easy to save the clippings you find to Ancestry.
Newspapers.com is my ‘go-to’ site, as long as the ancestor I’m looking for didn’t live in Delaware. Unfortunately, this site has only two Delaware – the Georgetown Union from 1865 (150 pages) and The Wilmingtonian and Delaware Advertiser from 1826-1827 (334 pages). I keep hoping that their Delaware holdings will expand in the future.
I should mention that you can retrieve these same two papers through Ancestry.com as well, but without the great search and clipping service.
FindMyPast and MyHeritage
I didn’t realize it before doing this survey, but it appears that there is a content partnership between MyHeritage, FindMyPast and the Newspaper Archive. As a result, the papers from Newspaper Archive can be found on the MyHeritage and FindMyPast sites as well. See this interesting article for more on who owns what in genealogy.
This is the newspaper collection of the Library of Congress, which has no papers for Delaware. It’s a very nice site that works quickly and has a great search engine. I hope we see Delaware papers here in the future.
Google Historical Newspaper Search
I’ve saved my favorite for last. Not because it has the most papers – it only has two runs of a single paper. And not because it has the best support or search engine – this service has pretty much been abandoned by Google, but because I have found more interesting information about my Wilmington ancestors than anywhere else. And did I mention that it’s free?
You can read more about this Google project on Wikipedia, but the summary is that the Google News Archive, like several other Google projects, was tried and dropped after a short run. The good news is that everything they digitized is still available and the search and retrieval still works. The search algorithm needs some improvement, but it’s quite functional.
The two papers they have are both weekly papers, published on Sunday. The first is the Sunday Morning Star, with issues from January 1881 through January 1950 and the second is Wilmington Sunday Star from January 1950 through May 1953. The interface makes it quite enjoyable to read through an issue of the paper, and the weekly format makes it a bit easier to track down a topic by date.
Newspapers on Microfilm
This survey shows that only a fraction of the papers published in Delaware are available online. We found 38 papers in total and most of them have only a few years represented, so we’re not done with microfilm quite yet. For those of you who can’t wait for a paper to be published online, there are a number of sources you can turn to:
- Probably the best starting point is the Delaware Newspapers Research Guide at the University of Delaware, which includes a link to using newspapers in genealogical research.
- The Delaware Newspaper Project at the University of Delaware has extensive list of the newspapers available on microfilm and where they can be found. This list includes only the papers included as part of the Delaware Newspaper project and not those, like the News Journal Papers, that had been previously filmed.
In the course of researching this article, I had an email exchange with Rebecca Knight, Associate Librarian in the Reference and Instructional Services Department of the Morris Library, and she passed along the exciting news that there a new newspaper project underway! The library has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to digitize about 55,000 pages published in Delaware for the years 1836-1922. The project end date is August 31, 2017, which is just around the corner (genealogically speaking)! Current news about the project can be found on the project website.