Newspaper Research Tips for Family History | Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

Newspaper Research Tips for Family History

Newspapers can often provide personal information that public records lack. Information that may be found in newspapers includes:

  • Births, marriages, deaths announcements
  • Legal actions
  • Business ads and transactions
  • Announcements about visiting relatives, the town visiting from, social events and a list of attendees.

Search Online Resources

Search the Wisconsin Name Index (WNI): Search by your ancestor's name or by topic. This WNI index contains 150 county and local histories, dozen of professional directories and biographical encyclopedias, more than 60 scrapbooks containing 30,000 obituaries, and selected articles in Wisconsin magazines and newspapers.  Most items were published 1870-1970. Search results provide index information for items related to the name or topic you entered.

Book icon for WNI records.WNI items
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Search the Wisconsin Local History and Biography Articles (WLHBA) Search by your ancestor's name. The WLHBA collection contains thousands of historical newspaper articles on notable Wisconsin people and communities. The entire collection of 16,000 articles is available digitally. Most articles were published 1860-1940. Results appear as scanned clippings of articles related to the name you entered.

Newspaper icon for WHLBA records.WLHBA items
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Search Catalogs If you don't find what you are looking for in the WNI or WHLBA collections, search the University of Wisconsin-Madison Library Catalog to identify the newspapers that served the area and time period of interest. Once you find the newspaper you are interested in, write down the call number, then go to the Library to view the article on microfilm. If you can't find what you are looking for online, it doesn't mean that it does not exist. Contact AskLibrary@wisconsinhistory.org for help or try looking for titles on WorldCat.org. Enter the geographic location and the word "newspapers".

Visit the Society to View Articles

View Obituaries on Microfilm More to come.

View Biographical Articles on Microfilm More to come.

Read Newspapers Issue by Issue on Microfilm Locate the microfilm using the call number you found in the online catalog. You will need to know the geographical location and month/year of the event you are researching. View the newspaper issue by issue to find the article(s) of interest.

  • Many personal notes (obituaries, etc.) are buried in the local news column. Be sure to check these columns.
  • Look at all newspapers published in a selected town during the date in question. One newspaper may have different information than the others. 
  • Check local or national ethnic, cultural, business or organizational periodicals for family news. You will find our listing of these types of materials in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Library Catalog.
  • Reading each issue of a newspaper for the era of your ancestor may bring up some very interesting forgotten family stories.

If you can't visit the Society, you can order the newspaper on microfilm through interlibrary loan. Then view it at your local library.

More Tips

  • Many indexes to newspapers have been compiled at a local level and may be found in the local library, or local historical society.
  • Newspapers are considered a secondary source. Try to find additional collaborating evidence for any facts that you find in newspapers.

About Our Newspaper Collection

The Wisconsin Historical Society has the second largest collection of newspapers in the United States, surpassed only by the Library of Congress.

This stunning national collection spans from the 17th century to the present and serves the needs of researchers not only in Wisconsin, but also throughout the world.

Holdings include titles published in each of the 50 states, U.S. possessions, and the 13 Canadian provinces, plus an assortment of military newspapers published overseas.

More than 4,000 titles are included in the collection, with Wisconsin newspapers accounting for approximately 1,600 of these. Out-of-state newspaper holdings are for mostly metropolitan areas.

Learn More

See more articles about researching your family history.

Have Questions?

Contact our Library and Archives staff by email.

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