How to Search the Google News Archive

Historical photo of two women in a periodical room at a library, going through old newspapers
Sherman / Getty Images

Google News Archive offers a wealth of digitized historic newspapers online—many of them for free. The Google newspaper archive project was discontinued by Google many years ago but, although they stopped digitizing and adding new papers and removed their useful timeline and other search tools, the historical newspapers that were previously digitized remain.

The downside of this is that, due to poor digital scanning and OCR (optical character recognition), a simple search of the Google newspaper archive rarely pulls up anything but major headlines.

 In addition, Google News has continued to deprecate their newspaper archive service, making it extremely difficult to search for content prior to 1970, although they have hundreds of digitized newspaper titles prior to this date. 

You can improve your chances of finding great info in Google News Archive with a few simple search strategies.

Use Google Web Search

Searching within Google News (even the advanced search) no longer returns results older than 30 days, so be sure to use web search when searching for older articles. Google Web Search doesn’t support custom date ranges earlier than 1970 or content behind a paywall—but that doesn't mean you won't find content prior to 1970 by searching, you just can't restrict your searches to only that content.

Check Availability First

A full list of the digitized historical newspaper content is available online at the Google News Archive. It generally pays to start here to see if your area and time period has coverage, although if you're looking for something interesting or potentially newsworthy (a railroad accident, for example) you may find it also reported in papers from outside the area.

Restrict Sources

While it is most common to search for individuals in a specific location, Google no longer offers the option to restrict your search to a particular newspaper title. Each newspaper does have a specific newspaper ID (found after "nid" in the URL when you select the title from the newspaper list), but the site search restriction does not consider this.

Instead, try using a newspaper title in quotes, or use just a single word from the title of the paper to restrict your search; thus a source restriction for "Pittsburgh" will turn up results from both the Pittsburgh Press and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Date Restrict

To search content older than 30 days, use the Google advanced web search page to restrict your search by date or date range. You can bypass the restriction on dates older than 1970 by using Google's site search feature on the news archive alone. This isn't precise, as it will include any mention of that date or year and not just papers published on the date you've selected, but it is better than nothing. 

  • Example: site:news.google.com/newspapers pittsburg 1898

Use Generic Terms

Browse through several issues of your newspaper of interest to become familiar with the general layout of the paper and the terms used most often in your sections of interest. For example, if you're looking for an obituary, did they commonly use the term "obituaries," or "deaths" or "death notices," etc. to head that section? Sometimes section headers were too fancy to be recognized by the OCR process, so also look for words frequently found in the general text then use that search term to look for content.

Consider whether your term is appropriate for the time period as well. If you're searching contemporary newspapers for information on World War One you will need to use search terms such as great war, because it wasn't called World War One until after the commencement of World War Two.

Browse This Paper

For best results when searching digitized historical newspaper content in Google, there really is no way around using the browse feature rather than search. All things considered, it's still better than having to go down to the library to look at microfilm. Begin with the newspaper list to browse directly to a specific newspaper title in the Google News Archive. Once you select a title of interest, you can easily navigate to a specific date using the arrows or, even faster, by entering the date in the date box (this can be a year, month and year, or a specific date).

When you're in the newspaper view, you can get back to the "browse" page by selecting the "Browse this newspaper" link above the digitized newspaper image.

Missing Issue? Not Always

If Google appears to have newspapers from your month of interest but is missing a few particular issues here or there, then take time to view all pages of the available issues both before and after your target date. There are many examples of Google running together several newspaper issues and then listing them only under the date of the first or last issue, so you can be browsing an issue for Monday, but end up in the middle of the Wednesday edition by the time you browse all of the available pages.

Downloading, Saving, and Printing

Google News Archive does not currently offer a direct way to download, save, or print newspaper images. If you want to clip an obituary or other small notice for your personal files, the easiest way to do this is to take a screenshot.

  1. Enlarge your browser window with the relevant page/article from Google News Archive so that it fills your entire computer screen.
  2. Use the enlarge button in Google News Archive to enlarge the article you want to clip to an easy to read size that fits entirely within your browser window.
  3. Hit the "Print Screen" or "Prnt Scrn" button on your computer keyboard. For help with this, see these How to Capture a Screen Shot tutorials for Windows and Mac OS X.
  4. Open your favorite photo editing software and look for the option to open or paste a file from your computer's clipboard. This will open the screenshot taken of your computer browser window.
  1. Use the "crop" tool to crop the article in which you're interested and then save it as a new file (I usually include the newspaper title and date in the file name).
  2. If you're running Windows Vista, 7 or 8, make it easier on yourself and use the Snipping Tool instead!

If you can't find historical newspapers in Google Newspaper Archive for your area and time period of interest, then Chronicling America is another source for free, digitized historical newspapers from the United States. Several subscription websites and other resources also offer access to online historical newspapers.