There are multiple ways to search historical newspapers for information using Chronicling America. But where do you start?
When doing any kind of research it’s important to consider your subjects. In genealogy this could be your ancestors’ names, in science it could be a theory or phenomenon, and in history it could be an event or place name. One thing to consider about searching within historical newspapers is the diversity of language used when describing these things.
For example if you’re searching for articles on the Chisana Gold Rush you might only be finding a fraction of the information out there if you’re only searching “Chisana”. In the early days of the rush there were multiple spellings of Chisana (pronounced Shooshana), sometimes called Shushanna, and often spelled Shushana or Sushana. Names of towns, regions, rivers, and lakes also differed as new trails were mapped in addition to the use of both Native and non-Native place names.
Also take into consideration the vernacular of the time period. If you’re researching women’s fashion trends on the Frontier you may want to consider searching the more antiquated term “trousers” instead of “pants”.
Luckily Chronicling America has a number of search options that will help you narrow your searches and find the specific information you’re after. To begin there is the Basic Search that appears on the Chronicling America homepage. You may begin with a broad search here to judge if you need to further narrow your search. The Basic Search allows you to choose which state you’d like to search, a date range, and any keywords you’d like. A search for “coal” in West Virginia newspapers from 1800-1899 results in 65,414 results.
At this point you may choose to give up OR check out the Advanced Search tab found at the top of the homepage (definitely check out the Advanced Search).
The Advanced Search lets you select multiple states or specific newspapers if you have a specific town or region you’re interested in. You can limit searches to just the front page and you can also choose what language the paper was published in (currently the only languages offered are English, French, German, and Spanish). The phrase search “mardi gras” in newspapers published in French from Louisiana, 1789-1924 yields 155 results.
If you move to the All Digitized Newspapers 1789-1924 tab you’re given the added unique option of searching publications by ethnicity such as Jewish, African American, or Irish. With the ethnicity search you may also select what state and language (or simply leave the default “All” setting).
And finally, if you’re searching for a popular topic in American history visit the Recommended Topics page (link located on the left sidebar of the Chronicling America homepage). This page offers preselected articles provided by the Library of Congress (new topics added on a regular basis). Here you have the option of browsing topics in alphabetical order, by subject category (shown below), or by date (topics arranged by decade). This page in particular is an excellent resource for students and educators looking to incorporate digital historical newspapers into the classroom! I highly recommend checking it out.
Now you should be equipped with the knowledge for starting your first search in Chronicling America – happy searching!