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HST 212: American History Survey

Historical Newspaper Databases

Historical Newspapers Online

Newspaper Searching Tips

Searching historical newspapers requires a different search strategy than a simple google or database search.

Why?  Here are a few reasons:

  • Many historical newspapers were scanned by a computer using OCR (optical character recognition).  This means that the computer is recognizing the words and translating them to a digital format.  Computers make mistakes, and often times they misread letters - an A could look like an O, for example.
  • The entire newspaper is scanned in one file, not each article.  When you search a page, the words on the enitre page are searched, not just in an article.
  • Typography and spelling was much different than it is today.  One common example is the use of the long s, which computers read as an f.

Tips for searching historical newspapers --

Try narrowing your search to a date range.  Remember that news may take longer to be reported than it is today, so be generous in your ranges.

Use search operators!!

ADJ[x] (in Proquest insert / before number  ex. ADJ/3)
ADJ[x] -- Finds documents where search terms appear within x words of each other and in the same order. Where x is not specified, this proximity operator defaults to 1.
Example: Philip ADJ3 Freneau
Why is this a good search?
Name searches are often compromised by the appearance of middle initials in items. Specifying that the first and last names appear within 3 words of each other, rather than right next to each other, ensures complete retrieval of items that name Philip Morin Freneau, regardless of the absence or presence of the middle name.

NEAR[x] (in Proquest insert /before number ex. NEAR/3)
NEAR[x] -- Finds documents where search terms appear within x words of each other, in any order. Where x is not specified, this proximity operator defaults to 1.
Example: Jackson NEAR15 Florida
Why is this a good search?
This is a good search for finding items about Jackson's conduct in relation to Florida because the search statement specifies that the search terms should appear close together in individual items.

AND - Finds documents containing all your search terms.
Example: expatriation AND allegiance
Why is this a good search?
The word expatriation may be used in items that discuss emigration. Adding the word allegiance to the search makes the context clearer, if the intent is to find articles that discuss historical opinions about the concept of citizenship.

OR - Finds documents containing any of your search terms.
Example: farming OR agriculture
Why is this a good search?
Farming and agriculture tend to be used interchangeably. Searching with both using the OR operator makes retrieval of all relevant items highly likely.

NOT -- Finds documents containing your first word, but not your second word.
Example: captivity NOT indian
Why is this a good search?
This is a good search if you want to find instances of captivity exclusive of captivity in an Indian context.

Wildcarding, or truncation, is the use of certain symbols (? or *) to replace one or more letters or characters in a search term. This can be useful when:
  • you want to make sure you find items containing slight variants of your search term.
  • you are not completely sure how to spell your subject.
Wildcarding Symbols:
Single Character Wildcarding: Question Mark (?) Use the question mark in place of single letters. For example:
  • WOM?N will search for items containing woman or women.
Multiple Character Wildcarding: Asterisk(*)
Use the asterisk in place of multiple letters. For example:
  • ENVIRONMENT* will search for items containing environment, environments, environmental, environmentalist, etc.
  • COL*R will find all the items containing color or colour -- a great help for finding variant spellings of words.

From America's Historical Newspapers help section

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