Newspaper Research Guide
A Guide to Newspaper Research at the New-York Historical Society
The pages of a newspaper preserve the flavor of a time as no other chronicle can. Along with reports of key historical events, one can find smaller, though no less important items in newspapers: vital statistics (records of marriages and deaths which can function as substitutes for missing civil or religious registrations), biographical sketches, legal notices, offers of rewards for runaway slaves, public announcements, advertisements, and shipping information. This is history captured as it happened.
The New-York Historical Society holds the fourth largest collection of American newspapers published before 1820: 634 titles by one estimate. To that number must be added the myriad mid-19th to early-20th century New York papers, as well as those published in outlying frontiers of the expanding nation, bringing the total number of titles held close to 10,000. While the collection is strongest in newspapers from New York City and State, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, it encompasses all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia.
If the title and place of publication of a newspaper are known, consult the newspaper card catalog. This lists newspapers alphabetically by state, place of publication, and then by title. The words “Morning,” “Evening,” “Daily,” “Weekly,” and the initial article “the” are ignored in the alphabetizing process. And unless it constitutes the entire title of a newspaper, the city of publication is also disregarded. For example, The New-York Weekly Journal is found under “J” for Journal; the New-Yorker (a 19th century newspaper with the same title as the current magazine) under “N” for New.
Under “New York City” you will find most papers historically published in Manhattan. Papers from areas originally outside the pre–1898 consolidation boundaries of New York City—the annexed boroughs of Brooklyn, Staten Island and The Bronx, as well as various localities within Queens (i.e. Far Rockaway, Flushing, Long Island City, etc.)—are filed in the drawers labeled “New York State.” A small number of foreign newspapers—in English and other languages—are listed in the bottom drawer.
The extent of the library’s holdings of a newspaper is noted beneath the title; for lack of space, dates may occasionally continue onto the back of the card. A continuous run is indicated by a hyphen between dates (1837: Jan 28–1842: Aug 30). For a run of several years, the first and last years are given and the intervening years replaced by a hyphen (1824–1869). A comma marks where issues are lacking (1883: Apr 6, 9, 18–27, 30).
The colored stripe running across the top of some catalog cards indicates that a newspaper is:
Blue—available on microfilm
Red—available in Readex Microprint edition
Orange—too fragile to be retrieved
To learn which newspapers the library holds for a location in a given year, consult the chronological file, which is located in three large drawers near the card catalog. The drawers are arranged by state, place of publication, year, and then by titles held for that year. The extent of the holdings must then be checked against the detailed newspaper catalog.
Union lists—catalogs that describe the holdings of multiple libraries—are helpful in determining the titles and dates of publication of newspapers for a given locality. The two most often consulted for United States newspapers, Clarence Brigham’s History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 and Winifred Gregory's American Newspapers, 1821-1936: A Union List of Files Available in the United States and Canada (see Bibliography) are arranged by state and then locality. The United States Newspaper Project’s New-York Historical Society Holdings, April 1990, lists newspapers alphabetically by title, then place of publication. This is helpful when only the exact title of a paper is known. For example, there are no less than six distinct newspapers titled Evening Star in New-York Historical's collection.
Some publications containing the word “newspaper” in their title, such as Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, are listed as periodicals in the online catalog. If you cannot locate what you believe is a newspaper by the steps outlined above, look for it by title in the online catalog, BobCat, or ask a librarian for assistance.
Requesting, Handling and Copying Newspapers
To request a newspaper, log on to AEON, the library’s automated system, and fill out the appropriate form. Newspapers do not have call numbers, so please include the title, place of publication, and exact date(s) desired.
In cases where we hold the original and microform or photocopied versions of a newspaper, we will retrieve the latter in order to preserve the original from the natural deterioration caused by handling. Old newspapers are fragile and we ask that you use care when turning pages; corners are especially prone to chip. Except for loose issues, which should remain flat on the reading room tables, all bound original newspapers must be used with an oversized cradle. Please refrain from leaning on the pages, and do not write on paper placed on top of the newspaper, as this will leave a damaging impression. If you have questions about the proper handling of newspapers and other library materials, ask a librarian.
With very rare exceptions, original format newspapers—including those bound in volumes—cannot be photocopied. The technology Readex Microprint cards does not permit copying, but newspapers on microfilm can be printed at a cost of $.35 or $.50 per page, depending on the size. Personal scanners are not permitted on library materials, but non-flash photographs can be taken for research purposes only for a daily fee of $15.00 submitted with a signed permission agreement. Images of original newspaper pages may also be purchased through the Department of Rights and Reproductions; for further information call 1-(212)-873-3400, extension 282, or request a fee schedule at the Reference Desk.
Selected General Indexes to New York Newspapers
The contents of very few 18th and 19th century newspapers have been indexed, and those only partially. Advertisements and paid death and marriage notices are usually not indexed, though abstractions have been published for a number of these (see below). The comprehensive New York Times Index often serves as a guide to other nineteenth and twentieth century papers, which usually ran the same stories on the same dates. Some important early African-American newspapers, such as Freedom’s Journal and The Colored American are indexed in Donald M. Jacobs’s Antebellum Black Newspapers (see Bibliography and Newspaper Websites). In addition to the indexes listed below, New-York Historical holds Thomas Farrington De Voe’s Historical Incidents from Newspapers, a unique manuscript chronological index for the years 1704-1850 covering Boston, Hartford, Philadelphia and New York newspapers, with emphasis on the latter.
- Brooklyn Daily Eagle: July 1891–1900
- New York Times: 1851–present [also Personal Name Index to the New York Times Index, 1851–1989]
- New York Tribune: 1875–1906 [in print and on microfilm; print copy lacks 1879, 1894 and 1900; also digitized by Library of Congress at http://www.loc.gov/library/libarch-digital.html ]
- New York World: 1885–1890, 1892
An index unique to the New-York Historical Society is the card file from the offices of The Sun, which indexes that paper and its subsequent name changes for the years outlined below:
- Sun [morning]: January 1913–January 31, 1920
- Combined Sun and New York Herald: February 1, 1920–September 30, 1920
- New York Herald: October 1, 1920–March 18, 1924
Indexes to Genealogical Information in New York Newspapers
- Genealogical Data From Colonial New York Newspapers: material extracted from the New-York Gazette, 1726–1744; the New-York Weekly Journal, 1733–1751; the New-York Mercury, 1751–1768; and the New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury, 1768–1783 [CS61 .S37]
- Genealogical Data from the New York Post-Boy, 1743-1773 [CS42 .N37 no. 35]
- Rivington’s New York Newspaper: Excerpts from a Loyalist Press, 1773-1783 [reference shelves]
- American Deaths and Marriages, 1784–1829: Taken From Upstate New York Newspapers [F118 .G33] [See also Joseph Gavit’s American Deaths and Marriages: 1784–1829: Index to Non-principals in Microfilm Copies of Abstracts in the New York State Library, Albany, New York; F118 .G331]
- New-York Weekly Museum, 1788–1817: marriages and deaths [F128 .252 .N55]
- The New-York Magazine, Marriages and Deaths, 1790-1797 [F118 .S37]
- New-York Evening Post, 1801–1890: marriages [F128 .252 .N44] and deaths [F128 .252 .N45] [Also in Ancestry.com]
- Commercial Advertiser, 1802–1809, 1827–1832: marriages and deaths [F128 .252 .C7]
- Christian Intelligencer of the Reformed Dutch Church, 1830–1871: marriages [F128 .252 .C3] and deaths [F128 .252 .C4] [Also in Ancestry.com]
- New York Herald, 1835–1876: marriages and deaths [F128 .252 .N52 M2 1987]
- Marriages and Deaths from the New Yorker (Double Quarto Edition), 1836-1841 [F128.25.S39 1980]
- Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1841–1871: marriages [F128K .252 .B3] and deaths [F128K .252 .B32] [Also in Ancestry.com]
- New York Times, 1858–1978: obituaries [Reading Room Reference]
The following are just a few of the books about newspapers available on the open shelves of the Reading Room or at the Reference Desk, but many others can be found through the online catalog.
- Brigham, Clarence Saunders, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 1947). [REF Z6951.B86] Brigham’s “Additions and corrections to History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820” appeared in the Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 72 (1961), 15-62. [REF E172 .A35 n.s. v.71]
- Emery, Michael, “Newspapers,” in The Encyclopedia of New York City, Kenneth T. Jackson, editor (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995), 809-821. [REF F128 .3 .E75 1995]
- Fox, Louis H., New York City Newspapers, 1820-1850: A Bibliography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1928). [Reading Room Reference]
- Gottesman, Rita, The Arts and Crafts in New York: Advertisements and News Items from New York City Newspapers, 3 vols. (New York: The New-York Historical Society, 1938-1965). [Reading Room Reference]
- Gregory, Winifred, American Newspapers, 1821-1936: A Union List of Files Available in the United States and Canada. 1937. Reprint. (New York: Kraus, 1967). [REF *Z6945 .A53 1967]
- Clarke, Avis G., An alphabetical index to the titles in American newspapers… (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International, 1983). [REF Z6945 .A54 Index]
- Hansen, James L., “Research in Newspapers,” in The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, revised edition, Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Leubking, editors. (Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, Incorporated, 1997), 413–438. [REF CS49 .S65 1997]
- Jacobs, Donald M, Antebellum Black Newspapers: Indices to New York Freedom’s Journal (1827–1829), The Rights of All (1829), The Weekly Advocate (1837), and The Colored American (1837–1841) (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1976). [REF E185 .5 .J55]
- Lathem, Edward Connery, compiler, Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820, Being a tabular guide to holdings of newspapers published in America through the year 1820 (Barre, MA: The American Antiquarian Society and Barre Publishers, 1972). [Reading Room Reference]
- Mott, Frank Luther, American Journalism: A History of Newspapers in the United States through 260 Years: 1690 to 1950, revised edition (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1950). [REF PN 4855 .M63 1950]
- United States Newspaper Project, New-York Historical Society Holdings: April, 1990, 2 vols. (Dublin, OH: Online Computer Library Center, 1978–1990). [Reading Room Reference]
- New York State Newspaper Project, http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/nysnp/
- Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/
- ProQuest’s Historic New York Times, 1851–2007 [on-site access only], http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?RQT=306&DBId=6861
- Brooklyn Daily Eagle Online, 1841–1902, eagle.brooklynpubliclibrary.org
- Old Fulton New York Postcards [has over 16,000,000 digitized New York State newspaper pages, including the complete Brooklyn Eagle, 1841–1955], http://fultonhistory.com/
- Freedom’s Journal, 1827–1829, http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/libraryarchives/aanp/freedom/