Yesterday’s News is Today’s Research Gold Mine

Newspapers are one of the most versatile tools available for historical, genealogical and other types of research. Their content ranges from local to international news, serving researchers of all stripes. However, today we’re focusing on newspapers for local history and genealogy research.

Obituaries are a major source of information for local history and genealogy research. They can tell you when and where someone passed away, who their next of kin are, and information about burial arrangements, among other things.

The length and form of obituaries has changed over time. This 1891 obituary for David Shelby Walker, who served as governor of Florida from 1866 until 1868, is quite short, despite his prominence in society at the time.

Obituary for Florida Governor David Shelby Walker, July 21, 1891, Florida Times-Union.

Newspapers are also great sources of information for local happenings of all kinds. Aside from local news, you can peruse information about local businesses or scan the classifieds section. These sections are important because they tell us a lot about what people valued at a given point in history, whether monetarily or otherwise.

Although we often move past them today, full-page ads are a great source for historical information. During the Florida Land Boom, land companies entreated people to invest in their projects. Since many of these developments did not last long, any piece of evidence we can find is valuable. This full-page ad for the Pasadena-on-the-Gulf neighborhood in St. Petersburg gives you the flavor.

Full-page ad for the Pasadena-on-the-Gulf neighborhood in St. Petersburg, November 30, 1924, St. Petersburg Times. Click to enlarge.

Finally, you’ll often see columns in historical newspapers that you won’t find today. “Social and Club Activities of Interest to Women,” for example, lists dances, meetings and other events happening in Tallahassee.

“Social and Club Activities of Interest to Women,” April 7, 1940, Tallahassee Daily Democrat. Click to enlarge.

There are several places you can go to start your own newspaper research. The State Library holds most major newspapers from all over Florida on microfilm. You can use these resources at the State Library Reference Room in Tallahassee, or patrons can request individual microfilm reels through their local library.

Many historical Florida papers are available through the Florida Digital Newspaper Library, hosted by the University of Florida Libraries. An easy way to browse this collection is to type in the name of a city, then see which papers are available for specific years.

Finally, the U.S. Newspaper Directory is a handy tool available through the Library of Congress. You can navigate by state, county or city and learn information such as newspaper publication dates, which can be difficult to find.

The librarians at the State Library are glad to help you with your research. Give them a call at 850.245.6682 or e-mail them at