While scrolling through the various genealogy blogs that hit my e-mail, I came across this wonderful article about newspapers and the information they contain. Scott Phillips in“Newspapers: A Brief History, The 5 Ws & Why I LOVE Them” (March 11, 2013) http://blog.genealogybank.com/newspapers-a-brief-history-the-5-ws-why-i-love-them.html reminds his readers that good newspaper articles incorporate the five W's in their articles, particularly in the opening paragraph. By reading the articles you glean all those little facts you can then track down in the public record. Or you can flesh out your family group sheets and trees.
While newspapers contain many articles they are also notoriously difficult to search. By their very nature, they are ephemeral and the articles are arranged by level of importance or maybe in categories such as local, national, international news; classifieds; and advertisements. The older the newspaper, the more random the placement of articles and stories.
Over the years, many newspapers indexed their own content, or most of it. For example the New York Times indexed their articles and paid obituaries published in large volumes that once graced the reference shelves in most libraries. Today their newspaper is indexed or accessible online through their search engine. If you are looking for articles about events and prominent people, look both online and in print.
Newspaper morgue staff and librarians aren't the only ones to index newspapers. Librarians in large and small libraries, business divisions, and special collections have indexed their local papers. Some of these indices are available online, others on microfilm, and still others in precious volumes and vertical files found in the libraries. One example of librarians indexing the local paper, The Akron Beacon Journal (and its predecessors) is found at the Akron Summit County Public Library in their Special Collections Division http://sc.akronlibrary.org/genealogy/akron-beacon-journal-indexes/ The physical indices are bound by year as are the PDF versions available online. That means the researcher needs to know the date of the event or else must look up the event or name year by year. Once the entry or entries are identified, the researcher then has to find the appropriate roll of microfilm and locate the article. The trick, of course, is to determine the terms indexers used for each article.
Akron librarians are just one group of industrious indexers. Genealogical and historical societies have also indexed newspapers, particularly the obituaries. A number of libraries and genealogical societies got together to create and host the RB Hayes Obituary index http://index.rbhayes.org/hayes/index/ which provides access to obituaries from newspapers across Ohio. While not every county or newspaper is represented, it's a great way to locate a death notice.
Newspapers are a great way to learn about battles and campaigns. Todd Andrlik's Reporting the Revolutionary War: Before It Was History, It Was News (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2012) mines colonial newspapers to trace and track causes and events during the Revolutionary War. For news articles about the Civil War, you could look at the collection put together by editors Harold Holzer and Craig Symonds The New York Times The Complete Civil War 1861-1865 (NY: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers; Har/Dvdr edition, 2010).
Now it's your turn. Explore the local newspaper on the date of your birth or marriage. What else was happening on that day?