The National Institute for Genealogical Studies


The National Institute for Genealogical Studies - LEADERS IN ONLINE GENEALOGY EDUCATION

Understanding Newspapers

 Do You Understand What You are Reading?

As you begin searching for mentions of your ancestor in the newspaper, you may begin to wonder if you are reading a foreign language. The vernacular or abbreviations that you are reading are the result of the newspaper world, or the general colloquialism of the time.


 Abbreviations may be a little more prevalent than you anticipated as a result of the limited typeface of the publisher. Some of these abbreviations may have been encountered in other records including census, vital, land, or probate. Some of the abbreviations were used when there was limited space, perhaps where the vital records announcements might have been included, for instance.  

  • Inst. – is the abbreviation for instant and means that the event took place in that month. 
  • Ult. – is the abbreviation for Ultimo, a Latin word that refers to the past month.  
  • Esq. – which actually comes at the end of the name and is the abbreviation for Esquire.  

Remember that as you are working in older newspapers that the terms are not always the same in meaning as they are now. So, you may find that reading through certain news stories can take a little more time than reading a news story in today’s papers. With our United States: Newspaper Records course, you will learn more research techniques when using these records in your research.

United States Newspapers

US Newspapers 

Newspapers offer a window to the past. They are the real-life recordings of our ancestors’ history. Unlike history books, family histories written years later, or memoirs, newspapers were recording the news at the time it was actually happening.


One of the reasons that many researchers do not investigate what newspapers may be available is because they often assume that searching the newspaper requires going page by page and issue by issue. This is not always the case; there is a method to the arrangement of the newspaper. Like any genealogical resource, it is important that you take the time to become familiar with it.  

Remember that the purpose of the newspaper was to disperse information to its readership. The editor’s job was to keep the town or city informed of not just what was going on in the world, but also in the country, state, county and city.  Small town newspapers, and those begun during the early settlement of a town or county, may often contain more personal news about its residents than larger cities. Newspapers are one way to get some insight into the life of your ancestors.  

As genealogists we want information about our ancestors. When we can’t find a birth, marriage, or death record, we may turn to the newspaper to see if we can find an announcement of the event. In addition to vital records, there are many miscellaneous items in the newspaper that may hold tidbits of information about the families you are seeking. You may find mention of the following:  

  • Family news 
  • Voter list 
  • Jury list 
  • Social events 
  • Political meetings 
  • Gossip 
  • Legal notices 

Newspapers record the news at the time it was happening as well as revealing society’s manners and attitudes for a given moment in time. With the United States:  Newspaper Records course you will maneuver the arrangement of these useful resources.  

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