Introduction to Red Book: Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections

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This entry was originally written by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
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the Introduction to Red Book.
Vital Records
Census Records
Background Sources
Land Records
Probate Records
Court Records
Tax Records
Cemetery Records
Church Records
Military Records
Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Archives, Libraries, and Societies
African American
Native American
Internet Resources
County Resources


Every year the list of genealogical and historical periodicals grows. There are hundreds that are distributed to subscribers that often do not make it to a local library for research purposes. They vary even more as to their quality. Any of them might include records of value that have been transcribed or show useful methodology.

The major currently published periodicals of high professional quality that generally cover more than one state or region and offer superb examples of problem-solving approaches in determining relationships or record sources are:

The American Genealogist (TAG), P.O. Box 398, Demorest, GA 30535-0398

National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ)

The New England Historical and Genealogical Register (The Register) (see Massachusetts Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections).

The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record (The Record) (see New York Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections).

Detroit Society for Genealogical Research Magazine (see Michigan Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections).

The first three focus principally on publishing well-documented, compiled, multigenerational accounts of individuals and families in addition to illustrating use of resources and methodology. The fourth one focuses in more recent volumes on local Michigan material and families. All have individual indexes, but many are also indexed in combined indexes (see below).

Most states have periodicals as well, either published by state or local historical or genealogical societies. Each state’s section will outline a few. In some states many local genealogical societies publish periodicals. In fact, their number is too extensive to report each here. Local state libraries and genealogical organizations, the Federation of Genealogical Societies and Juliana Szucs Smith, comp. Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book, 2d rev. ed. (Provo, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2003) can direct a researcher to those periodicals that are currently being published.

There are combined periodical indexes as well. Each periodical generally indexes its own issues annually, but some indexes are available for several periodicals. Donald Lines Jacobus, Index to Genealogical Periodicals (reprint; Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1963–65), indexes those prominent in the first part of the twentieth century. The annually published Genealogical Periodical Annual Index (Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1974-present) indexes 277 periodicals currently being published. PERiodical Source Index (PERSI), produced by the Allen County Public Library covers over 6,000 periodicals and is divided into five sections: Surnames, U.S. Locality, Canadian Locality, Foreign Locality, and Methodology.

There are several useful subscription magazines with excellent articles on research approaches, record sources, and generally helpful hints on doing family history research. They include Family Tree Magazine, published by F&W Publishers, P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235; and Family Chronicle, published by Moorshead Magazines Ltd., U.S. Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1111, Niagara Falls, NY 14304-1111


Death (including cause) and marriage (occasionally with parents of couple indicated) notices might appear in a newspaper, although birth notices rarely do before the twentieth century. Obituaries for non-prominent persons begin to appear more regularly at the end of the nineteenth century. However, extensive social notices (including travels and visitors), court decisions, accidents, military engagements and those serving in them, weather conditions and events, business events, letters unclaimed at the post office, and ships’ arrivals give a more detailed description of the press’ perception of life in the community of readers. See James L. Hansen, “Research in Newspapers,” in Szucs and Luebking, The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Ancestry, Inc., 1997) for a broader discussion.

The U.S. Newspaper Program, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, “is a cooperative national effort among the states and the federal government to locate, catalog, and preserve on microfilm newspapers published in the United States from the eighteenth century to the present” (see This information is made available at Online Computer Library Center (OCLC). Contributing libraries are able to borrow microfilm copies of holdings from other libraries.

A national union list is also available in print, which indexes newspapers by name, place of publication, language, and date of publication. Each entry indicates extant issues of each newspaper and repositories holding those issues. Larger libraries and archives should have the publication in either book of microform: United States Newspaper Program National Union List, Microfilm: June 1987, 4th ed. (Dublin, Ohio: OCLC, 1993). Most state libraries develop their own “Union List” for newspaper holdings in their state.

Since the vast majority of older newspapers are on microfilm, it is possible to borrow many on interlibrary loan through a local library. Titles and dates of publication are listed for some newspapers in this section for each state, although most major libraries have the Union List or OCLC access or know how to request microfilmed newspapers through interlibrary loan. The following sources can help in locating specific newspapers:

  • Brigham, Clarence Saunders. History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690–1820. 2 vols. 1947. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1976.
  • Gregory, Winifred, ed. American Newspapers 1821–1936: A Union List of Files Available in the United States and Canada. New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1937. This is continued by the work of Brigham (above).
  • Library of Congress. Catalog Publication Division. Newspapers in Microforms: United States, 1948–1972. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1984.

Both present and historic newspapers are available in electronic format, including those searchable online through library or individual subscriptions. Full-text, indexed online access to the New York Times, 1851–1923, is available through subscription databases and on microfiche at many libraries. Many other historical newspapers have also been digitized and included in the same searchable subscription databases. More recent editions of newspapers generally have online access to indexes and digitized pages for the late twentieth century to the present time frame. Individual state chapters describe other newspaper sources specific to that state.


The extent of any library’s manuscript collection may vary considerably. Manuscripts of note are included for each state in this section. However, there are thousands more available. The Library of Congress publishes the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC), which is continuously updated. Each repository is listed with details about the holdings of its manuscript collection including diaries and personal papers. “Finding Manuscript Collections: NUCMC, NIDS, and RLIN,” by Mary McCampbell Bell, Clifford Dwyer, and William Abbot Henderson, in National Genealogical Society Quarterly 77 (September 1989): 208–18, can be helpful in learning how to locate specific manuscript material. The NUCMC cataloging in print covers 1962–94 material, and includes annual indexes. More recent cataloged material can be found online at the Library of Congress website.

A source for diaries is Laura Arksey, Nancy Pries, and Marcia Reed, An Annotated Bibliography of Published American Diaries and Journals, 2 vols. (Detroit: Gale Research, 1983–87).