Finding Microfilmed Newspapers

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Newspapers, especially obituaries, are a favorite tool of genealogists. Newspapers are typically filled with family information, sometimes tell is about a person's education and career, tell us what church the person attended and where they are buried.

But sometimes finding the newspaper you need can be difficult. There are some on-line resources: Proquest for large cities (New York, Chicago) and NewspaperArchive for many smaller cities. But these only scratch the surface; for the vast majority of cities and towns in the U.S. we must depend on microfilm.

And how do we find the microfilm? We typically have (if we are lucky) a place and a date. Library catalogs usually give us options for searching that include Title, Author, Subject, and Keyword; not very useful.

But there is a relatively new network of library catalogs called WorldCat, a network of library catalogs. It is also the repository for the U.S. Newspaper Program and, as such, contains information about a huge number of microfilmed newspapers.


OK, you ask, exactly how do we go about using WorldCat to find newspapers? Back to the local library; almost all provide access either directly to WorldCat or through FirstSearch. If you go into your library’s web site and find only FirstSearch you will get a page that looks like this; click on WorldCat (circled in red).

If your library provides direct access to WorldCat you can skip this and go right to the next step. If you have any difficulty with this, your local librarian will be able to help.


Now you are into WorldCat, but be sure that you are in Advanced Search, as shown here (again, circled in red).


At this point you are ready to do a search. Go down the page a bit and enter the name of the town of interest in the top search box. I have selected a familiar small town in Minnesota.


Now, just to the right is another box, usually with “Keyword” filled in. Go just to the right, where you see two small arrows, one pointing up and the other pointing down. Click on one of the arrows and a menu will open, and here you see the difference between FirstSearch and other library catalogs: most provide the option to search by title, author, subject, or keyword; FirstSearch provides many more options. Go down the menu a bit and select “Publisher Location.”


To be sure that you get the right place, fill in the state in the second search box.


And again, just to the right, select “Publisher Location” from the menu.

We do not have a screen shot to demonstrate this, but just down the page is a section labelled "Limit to" and one of the possibilities is "Language." You might try this if, for example, you are looking for a German-language newspaper.


Next (this may not matter for a small town, but for a large one…) find your way down the page and check the box labeled “Serial Publications.” This should eliminate books from the results. It may not eliminate magazines and things like college catalogs, but the result should be primarily newspapers.


Now you are finally ready to do the search, at the lower left.


And here is what the result looks like. In this case the first three entries are relatively recent newspapers; the fourth one is probably of most interest to genealogists, so we will select it for further examination.


This page provides a variety of information about the Hendricks "Pioneer." The publisher's name was K. E. Holian; it began in 1900, it was a weekly. But what we really want to know is: how do we find it? So we have to click on "Libraries that own Item."


And for the Hendricks "Pioneer" we get a simple answer: the only library holding it is the Minnesota Historical Society, and they have it only from 1941 forward. 

So what next? My recommendation is that you print the page above and take it to your local librarian, where you can request that they get the film via inter-library loan. You will have to specify an approximate date.

Jerry Kattke Downers
Grove, Illinois

WorldCat Screenshots are ©2011 OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. Used with Permission. ArticleFirst, FirstSearch and WorldCat are registered trademarks/service marks of OCLC.