The OldNews USA mobile app helps you learn how to search historic newspapers.  In this article, which is the first part of a two part series, I’ll explain the different types of searches you can use.  Since OldNews USA automatically generates search suggestions, you can learn the advanced search options by example using these generated suggestions.  In part two, I’ll demonstrate advanced techniques for performing a thorough search for a person with a very common name.

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced genealogist, I highly recommend that you start by creating a goal that includes a location.  It takes less than a minute to create a goal, and if you use the generated search suggestions, you’ll save much more than that in data entry time.

Creating a Person Goal

When you first start the app, the Get Started card asks you whether you want to find articles about a person or topic.  If you chose to find articles about a person, the following screen is displayed.

Find a Person screen, with gender, name, date range and location filled in.

To find a person, enter the person’s gender, name, date range, and location.  After you enter the person data, the app will return to the main screen, which will contain a number of new cards to help you find articles about your person.  One of these cards is the Search Suggestions card.  This card contains a list of recommended searches that you can try with a single click, without any further data entry.  Each list entry is a summary of a specific kind of search, showing the search terms that will populate the search screen when you select it.

The Search Suggestions card contains both newspaper and state search suggestions.

Let’s take a look at the different kinds of search suggestions.  The first thing to notice is that there are two different ways to search for your person, as indicated by the icon displayed with each search suggestion:

Search by Newspaper

Search by Newspaper suggestion

When you Search by Newspaper, you are searching all available issues of a single selected newspaper title. If you specified a location in your person goal, and there are newspapers published near this location within the date range that you specified, the app will determine the newspaper most likely to contain articles about your person. It will also create up to 10 search suggestions for the newspaper title using various advanced search options.  If you select one of the these suggestions from the list, the app will display the Search by Newspaper screen, with the newspaper, date range, and all search terms already filled in.

Search by Newspaper screen, with data from suggestion filled in.

Search by State

Search by State suggestion

When you Search by State, you are searching all available issues of all newspapers titles published in the specified state. If you specified a location in your Person Goal, the app will create up to 10 search suggestions using various advanced search options.  If you select one of the these suggestions from the list, the app will display the Search by State screen, again with all search terms already filled in.

Search by State screen, with suggestion data filled in.

Search Options

Regardless of whether you are searching by newspaper or by state, you can search using any of the following search options.

All Words
Example of an All Words search suggestion.

An All Words search is the most basic search option.  A newspaper page will match an All Words search if all of the search terms appear in the page.  If the person you are looking for has a common name, this search will probably return more matching pages than you will want to look through.  OldNews USA does generate some search suggestions that use the All Words search, but for when you are searching for a person, you will probably have better luck using other search options.

Exact Phrase
Example of an Exact Phrase search suggestion

With an Exact Phrase search, a newspaper page will match only if the exact phrase appears in the the page. When searching for a person, this is the first search that I like to try, since it usually does not return many matches, and those matches are definitely worth checking out.  The first search that OldNews USA will suggest is an exact phrase search.

Be aware that if the words in the phrase are split across multiple lines in the newspaper page, the exact phase search will not match.  This happens frequently in newspapers due to the narrow columns.  Although I do recommend you try Exact Phrase searches, don’t limit yourself to only using this option.

Any Word
Example of an Any Word search suggestion when combined with an All Words search.

This search option is my least favorite, and probably the most difficult option to use effectively.  With an Any Word search, a newspaper page will match if any of the search terms appear in the page. If you use this option by itself to search for a person’s name, the search will return even more matches than the All Words search.

I like to use the Any Word option with one of the other options to help narrow the list of search results.  Yes – you can combine multiple search options in a single search!  As shown above, if you specify some optional keywords in your Person Goal, OldNews USA will suggest a search that is a combination of an All Words and an Any Word search.  Give it a try to see how it works for your search.

All Within “n” Words
Example of an All Within search suggestion

I saved the best option for last.  The All Within “n” Words search, also called a proximity search, is similar to an All Words search, except the words need to be near each other within the page for the page to be considered a match.  You get to specify how near by picking a number for “n” between 1 and 20.  OldNews USA will generate a number of different search suggestions using this kind of search.  This search option works really well, so give it a try and see for yourself.

Pro Tip:  When using an All Within search, put the most specific search term first in the list of terms.  If I want to search for Mrs. Doran, I would enter Doran Mrs. as my search terms with a proximity value of 1. When you view the highlighted matching search terms, OldNews USA will first navigate to the matches for the first search term, followed by the matches for the second term.  A page may contain 20 or more matches for the word Mrs., but only a few for the name Doran.  By putting the most specific word first, you’ll save a lot of time when you review the matches.

Try Your Own Searches

After you try some of the search suggestions, you’ll start to see how the different search options work.  Try modifying some of the suggested searches to make them either more specific or broader, depending on the number of matching pages returned by the search.  It is always faster to modify a search that to reenter all of the search data from scratch.

In part two, I’ll share some advanced search techniques for finding a person in the newspapers.  Download OldNews USA today and try these search options for yourself.  Happy searching!

Newspaper Search Basics with OldNews USA
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