Ink on Their Fingers

Author: Mark W. Swarthout
Published on: December 29, 2000

Most of us get one every day. It may, like mine, show up in a plastic bag tossed from the front seat of a passing car, sliding across the driveway pavement in the general direction of the house. And most of us don't do more than read a couple of articles on topics of specific interest. But in the days before the World Wide Web, long before radio and television, the newspaper was the primary source of news and information. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, even into the early 20th Century, the newspaper was king. It was the source of all the news. Every little town had its weekly and larger towns may have published twice a week. The cities even had papers every day!

Newspapers can be a wealth of information for the genealogist and the family historian, the death and marriage announcements being the items most people think of immediately. More recently, papers began printing births and engagements. But there are other sections of the paper that can be well worth reading.

A few years ago I discovered that my 3d great grandfather, Corydon Fairchild, was the editor of the Ovid Bee. It was a small four page weekly paper in the 1800's published in the New York Finger Lakes region in the town of Ovid. Through an extract of the vital records pulled from the paper, I had long ago been able to fill in a couple of names and dates of relatives that lived in the area, mostly of children that had died young.

I was (and still am) having trouble with a fuzzy gap in my paternal line. The other family experts and I know it fits in one of three places, but we haven't located the documentation that proves which of the three possibilities for the father is the correct one. So I decided to see what might be in the paper. I used my favorite search engine, Google and entered "Ovid Bee." Amazingly, I got a number of matches!

And in doing so, I discovered the New York State Newspaper Project. The project is to save all available newspapers printed in the State of New York. Thousands of pages from hundreds of newspapers have been photographed and preserved on microfilm. And the site lists every copy that is recorded and, most importantly, includes the instructions on how to borrow the film!

Many states have, or are in the process of creating, an online listing of the Newspapers published in the state and the general time frames that they were published. They have also preserved as many copies as possible on microfilm. By using the Inter Library Loan process through your local public or university library, you can access the same papers that your ancestors were reading for the news of the world. Good starting points for finding these projects are found at the bottom of this article.

A brief word about Inter Library Loan. I had learned about this system many years ago, (my father was a librarian) and now I couldn't imagine being without it. Your public library is not restricted to what is contained within its walls. Most of them participate in the Inter Library Loan program, which allows libraries to loan material to each other. The fees are modest and are intended to cover the basic costs of shipping and form processing. Some magazine articles will be photocopied and sent to you, other items, such as microfilm will be available for in library use only. The New York State Newspaper Project charges $10 for each order, which may include up to 5 rolls of microfiche. My local library charges $3 for processing the paperwork. Just because your local library doesn't have the book, magazine or microfilm doesn't mean you can't get it!

I still haven't resolved my fuzzy link, but I found a whole gold mine of information! My next article, January 12th, will discuss what to look for on those rolls of celluloid.

Historical Newspapers Online

Oklahoma Historical Society

Maine Newspaper Archives

Baltimore County Public Library

Canadian Newspapers on microform (Inter Library Loan does extends into Canada, but some libraries choose to restrict it to US only to keep costs down.)

THE CIVIL WAR: A Newspaper Perspective

Alaska Newspapers on Microfilm

Current newspapers available online can be found at

Back to the Article Index
Updated on 10/25/2005