Travel to the 19th Century Without Leaving Your Home

A guest post by Marnie Goodbody, a Research Services librarian.

Time travel IS possible—through the Gale database portal, 19th Century U.S. Newspapers. In these pages you can read about life in urban and small-town America, as it was happening. 19th century life is reflected through the advertisements, births, announcements, and obituaries. They also contain stories of accidents, missing children, sinking ships, Civil War battles, and political brawls.

A board of five journalism historians selected  400 newspapers that cover the entire century and country. They are primary resources that are useful for  genealogists, historians, and other researchers. The publications represent different  points of view, from the major newspapers to those written by labor groups, women’s rights groups, African Americans, Native Americans, and the Confederacy. Boston-area publications include the Boston Courier, Boston Daily Advertiser, Boston Investigator, New-England Weekly Review, Atlas, and American Eagle.

Searchers are given the choice of conducting a simple or advanced search. Once a search is made, there are options to filter the results by publication title, document type, subject, date, etc., or do a keyword search within the results.

Once a result populates, there are several responsive features you can use. The PDFs of the pages are searchable, and you can search within an article, issue, or entire publication. The page can be converted to text (with various degrees of success) for easier reading. You can also move from issue to issue. Gale also provides a Table of Contents with each hit, listing the headlines and story titles. A complete citation is also available, which is handy for students and researchers.

Navigation between the hits and within the PDF are weak points in this database. It can be frustrating not to be able to go from hit to hit. Instead, you must return to the results list (and to the TOP of the results list, which is additionally frustrating if you are working your way through a long list of hits).

But these are minor frustrations compared to having these stories at your fingertips. These newspapers allow us first-hand access to the 19th century, through the Civil War and Reconstruction, the movement west, urbanization, immigration, and all of the conflicts, celebrations, and heartbreaks that lay within those struggles.

To learn more about the BPL’s newspaper collections, see our newspapers research guide. Use your BPL borrower card or e-card to access 19th century newspapers from our Online Resources page.  Get a BPL e-card here.

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