Monday, March 18, 2013

The Digital Morgues: Historic Newspapers – The Feebies

There are probably more free historic newspaper archives on the Internet than fee-based, but these “feebies” constitute some of the most important—and to writers and genealogists, useful—publications in the world, among them The New York Times, The Times of London, the Washington Post, and the Economist. There are also paid services, like and that maintain newspaper databases. Let’s take a look at a few of these.


The Times offers a digital archive of virtually every issue (and hence, every article—more than 13 million of them) published since 1851. Go here for more information. 

The Times has set up three different date ranges for viewing articles. 

From 1851 through 1922 articles are actually free to anyone, but there is a monthly limit of ten freebies before the feebie kicks in. So from your 11th article on you’ll have to pay $3.95 each.

From 1923 to 1986 nonsubscribers pay the $3.95 from the get-go.

And from 1987 through today, it’s back to the “free with monthly limit” program.

n.b.: The New York Times established a “pay wall” a couple of years ago, which means that even if you want to troll this past weekend’s issues, you’ll have to pay to look at more than ten items per month.

If you become a subscriber to The Timesdigital service, you can get up to 100 “free” archive articles a month in that center range, and unlimited use in the early and late ranges.

The cheapest digital subscription is $3.75 per week, and includes and their Smartphone App. Pay more and you have access to the paper through more devices. You can subscribe on a monthly basis if you want—no long term commitment is required.

The main search page gives you a number of options.

There is a box for the search term(s). Under that you can choose how the results are sorted (Newest, Oldest, and the default, Relevance). Over there on the left you can pick the date range. The default range is “All Since 1851.” You’ll probably not want to choose that option, unless you want to wade through ten million plus results. Skip down to “Specific Dates” and click on that. Up pop two lines in which to enter a range. In this case I entered 01/01/1870 to 12/31/1872. Now—and this is important—before you enter a search term click on “REFINE SEARCH” That will narrow the search down to all results in that time period, in this case about 6,000.

Now you can enter the search term. I’ve entered the name of one of the people I’ve been researching, “harpending.” And having done that, you can now click “Go.” I don’t know why The Times has gone to this two-step search process (until recently it required just one step). All in the name of progress, eh?  

So the results show about 17 articles featuring someone called Harpending. My guy’s first name is “Asbury,” so those items about “Abraham” can be bypassed. 

These pre-1923 articles open up as page images, and are easily printable—just go to the printer icon in the upper right and click “OK”. You can also download the article as a PDF.
TIP: If you are a nonsubscriber and have paid the $3.95 for the item, I highly recommend you download it so you’ll have the file for future reference.

Occasionally—and maddeningly—the site goes down and may stay down for a few days. But on the whole, The New York Times Archive site is well-organized, simple to use, and is a very productive resource.


The actual title of the newspaper is simply The Times, but to differentiate it from the New York paper of the same name, many people call it The Times of London.
And while this Times is an awesomely valuable source for news from the entire world dating from 1785 onward, it is only available to subscribers. Which is to say, they do not offer a pay-per-view service, and have no plans to offer one. The cheapest subscription, the “Digital Pack,” will set you back £4 per week (about $6.00) with a minimum 12 month contract. If you’re lucky enough to live in a large city or near a large university you may be able to access the Times through their libraries—if you go there in person. Otherwise you’re plain out of luck.

Having recently had access to the Times’ archives I can tell you that the search can be a bit clunky, navigating can be difficult, and printing is a pain (best bet is to open a PDF and print using the technique described in the last post). But my oh my the stuff you can find there.


The Post is among several large metropolitan newspapers that have turned their archives over to ProQuest, a company that claims to be the “world’s largest digital newspaper archive.” Other publications include the Chicago Tribune (1852-1988), Atlanta Journal-Constitution (1868-1939), Hartford Courant (1764-1986), Boston Globe (1872-1979), Christian Science Monitor (1908-1980), and the Los Angeles Times (1881-1988).

Articles from the Post and all these other papers are available, thankfully, on a pay-per-view basis. But, oddly, the fee structure for each is different.
For example, at the Washington Post you pay $3.95 for one item, or you can buy packs, like the  4 Article Week Pass, costing $10.95. The 3 Month Pass, at $29.95 for 25 articles, is a relative bargain—each item then costs just $.83. Over at the Boston Globe, you cannot buy one item, but for $9.95 you can by an unlimited one month pass (they also have 3 month and 12 month deals). The LA Times does do singles, for $3.95, and offers a variety of passes that limit the total number of articles you can view. Why all these ProQuest digital papers offer different deals is puzzling, but the bottom line is: you can have full access to the archives.


I look forward each week to the arrival of this slick, color news magazine. At least that’s what it looks like. But its British publishers steadfastly insist their publication is a “newspaper.” 

Whatever it is, The Economist has been around since 1843. Early on it mainly covered financial news, but gradually expanded to just about every subject under the sun. It can be a great reference for independent researchers, but it does require an annual subscription. That’s not unusual. But what is unusual is that even if you’re a regular subscriber to the magazine you have zero-zilch-nada access to The Economist’s digital archives. That access will set you back another $160 annually. I’ve been a subscriber for the magazine for over 30 years and I find this a bit outrageous. 

Just FYI - Proquest’s main competitor, Gale Cengage Learning, manages the archive for The Economist (as it does the Times of London’s and many other papers. Alas, neither of these companies offer their wares to the general public.

But fortunately there is a free work-around for The Economist’s expensive archive—or a partial one, at any rate. The rapidly growing HathiTrust Digital Library offers  access to The Economist for the years 1843 to 1899 as part of their extensive “19th Century British Periodicals” collection.

If you’re not familiar with HathiTrust now’s a good time to start. They are a partnership of 60 major research institutions and libraries “working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future.” They already have nearly 11 million total volumes digitized. Only a fraction of these collections are available to the general public—Hathi’s main audience is, like Proquest and Cengage, institutional. But by all means check it out.


A much more enlightened take on the nature of a “subscriber” is that taken by The New Yorker magazine. Anyone who subscribes to the print or digital editions automatically has access to the entire archive, dating back to dandy Eustace Tilley’s appearance on the cover of the first issue, February 21, 1925. The range of articles published in The New Yorker is wider than you might think (it’s more than just cartoons—much more). And the list of contributors reads like a “Who’s Who” of 20th and 21st century writers: Cheever, Capote, Dahl, Salinger, Nabokov, Updike, Welty, Parker, Roth, Salinger, Thurber, and it goes on and on. If you’re researching NASA and the American Space Program, there is a trove of contemporary pieces from the ‘60s and ‘70s that really captures the spirit of the time. and

These two feebies offer a wide range of information services mainly to folks trying to track their roots. But these are both invaluable resources for writers and history researcher.'s real value is its huge collection of online digital newspapers, dating from 1690, and including every state in the union. Many of them are available from no other source on the web. The search feature has just been improved, so you can intuitively enter date ranges. Start by filling in the name or other keywords. Then add the date range (not obligatory). And over on the right you can check off one or more states to troll through. As you tick them off, they light up on the map. Nice feature.

The results are cleanly displayed. Click on what you want to read and in a little while the article will pop up. Printing is easy—just go to icon in the upper right.

You can subscribe for $19.95 a month, or take an annual subscription for $69.95. is the giant among genealogy-centric websites. It, too, has a historical newspaper database, but I find it less useful than GeneaologyBank’s. Where Ancestry really shines is in tracking families. There are indexed, searchable U.S. Census records from 1790 through 1940 (the most recent—it will be another decade before 1950 appears). There are City Directories, which are really useful for finding where people lived and what their occupations were (my guy, Harpending, proudly bragged he was a “Capitalist”). Passenger Lists can be used to track the movement of your subjects. Military Records provide a surprising amount of detail about men in the armed services, including, for example, U.S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls from 1798 to 1958, and Draft Registrations from both WWI and WWII.

This only begins to scratch the surface of what has tucked away in its server farms. You can subscribe monthly for $22.95, or six months for $77.70 ($12.95 month). It’s good value for a very valuable resource.

As you can see, feebie digital archives are available, sometimes at a reasonable cost, sometimes not so much. The publications listed above are just a few of the ones you can gain access to. To find them on the web, your best bet is to type in the name of the magazine or newspaper along with the word “archive” and see what turns up.

Another Approach

At least two organizations, the Godfrey Memorial Library in Middletown, Connecticut, and the New England Historic Genealogical Society of Boston, offer their premium members online access to a pair of really useful historic newspaper collections:  19th Century U.S. Newspapers and Early American Newspapers. To join either group will cost you $80 per year. And they both also maintain extensive online and onshelf genealogic and historic collections.

The 19th Century database (from Cengage)—encompasses over 500 newspapers and some 1.7 million pages. The Early American set is from NewsBank, which is the parent of It comprises well over a thousand titles.

In the next post we’ll get take a look at digital offerings of historical societies large and small.

If this post was helpful or interesting to you, please let me know. I’m always looking for ways to improve the blog.

Disclaimer: The description of web pages are accurate as of the date of the post. Like everything else in this digital world of ours, they can change in the blink of an eye.

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