Using Newspaper Databases for Family History Research

Historical newspapers contain a wealth of information useful for family history research. They include obituaries and death notices, wedding announcements, college graduation announcements and more.

The BPL offers access to several databases indexing historical newspapers that can be used from home with a BPL card or eCard and PIN. Below is an example of how to use one of these databases to locate an obituary or a death notice.

Searching for an Obituary in a Newspaper Database

Before you can search for an obituary, you will need to know the following:

  • The name of the deceased
  • The day they died
  • The name of the city or town where they died

To find an obituary in a BPL database, follow these steps:

  1. Check the list of newspaper databases to see which one would be most appropriate
  2. Log into the database
  3. Go to advanced search
  4. Enter name and date of death in the search form
  5. Click search and look through results
  6. If successful, print or save result
  7. If not successful, ask a librarian for help

Example Search

For this example, we will be looking for an obituary for:

  • Name: John Furlong
  • Date of Death: 22 March 1913
  • Location of Death: South Boston, Massachusetts
Step 1: Check the list of newspaper databases to see which one would be most appropriate

Because John Furlong died in Boston, we are going to search the Boston Globe (1872-1988) database located in the Historical Newspapers section of our online resources.

Image of link to Boston Globe database on BPL website, with arrow pointing out where to click to access the database.

 
 
 
 
 
Step 2: Log into the database

To access this database, click on the Boston Globe (1872-1988) link and enter your library card and PIN to log in.

Image of BPL database log in screen

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Step 3: Go to advanced search

Once logged into the database, click on Advanced Search.

Image of Boston Globe database main page, with circle showing where to click to get to the Advanced Search page.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Step 4: Enter name and date of death in the search form

Type in “John Furlong” (without quotes) in the search box. You can also restrict the date to March 1913.

Image of Advanced Search page in Boston Globe database, with arrows pointing out where to type in search terms and select a date to search.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Step 5: Click search and look through the results

To look at each result, click on the title of the article.

Image of search results page in Boston Globe database, with arrow pointing out where to click to access an article.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Step 6: if successful, print and/or save result

In this example, the first two results were an obituary and a death notice for John Furlong.

To save or print an obituary, click on the Download PDF or Print buttons located at the top right corner of the page.

Image of article in Boston Globe database, with arrows pointing out where to click in order to save or print the article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Search Tips:

  • Try putting quotes around the first and last name of the person you're searching for if you get too many results
  • If you’re not 100% sure about the date of death, just put in the year
  • If you are really unsure about the death date, try to get a copy of their death certificate. See this genealogy guide on vital records for more information about how to get one.
  • Obituaries and death notices are just two examples of the items in newspapers that may mention your ancestor. Try searching for their name without a date and see what you can find!

More Information

For a more in-depth guide to searching for an obituary, check out the Obituaries section of the Genealogy research guide. For more information about newspapers at the BPL, take a look at the Newspapers research guide.

Newspaper Databases Useful in Family History Research

  • 19th Century US Newspapers- Searchable full-page and article reproductions of newspapers from across the country. Massachusetts Coverage: Boston: Atlas, Congregationalist, Courier, Daily Advertiser, Emancipator & Republican, Investigator, Liberator; Lowell: Lowell Daily Citizen. For more information, take a look at this blog post- Travel to the 19th Century Without Leaving Your Home.
  • Boston Globe (1872-1988)- Searchable full-page and article reproductions back to the first issue on March 4, 1872. Coverage:  Morning Edition only.
  • Jewish Advocate (1905-1990)- Searchable full-page and article reproductions back to the May 26, 1905 issue. Published as the Boston Advocate: New England’s Jewish Weekly from 1905-1909.
  • New York Times (1851-2016)- Searchable full-page and article reproductions back to the first issue on Sept 18, 1851.
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