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Primary Sources: Historical News

Web sites and repositories for primary sources.

On the Web

Thanks to state libraries, special collections, museums, and historical societies, and also to genealogists and local history buffs, some newspaper content in the public domain that used to exist only on microform has been uploaded to the web and made available.

These are often, but not always, topically specific collections of articles rather than a chronological sequence of entire newspapers. 

If you come across a high quality, free full-text web site of newspaper content that you think should be included here, please recommend it to (We will not post anything that requires a subscription/membership, or web sites that merely link to other web sites.)

Microform in Library Basements!

The old fashioned and still incredibly useful way to get old newspapers is to go to a local library and look it up on microfilm or microfiche (slightly different kinds of microform machine.)

How does microform work?

These machines use basic optics to enlarge tiny scans of the original back to readable size, and you can usually print off pages. Advantages: incredibly easy to operate. Disadvantages: rarely indexed except for the title of the newspaper and the date. So you need to know what you're looking for or be prepared to skim a lot. 

How do I find what I'm looking for?

Even if you do not have a subscription to the New York Times, you can search their archives for article titles, click them, and get the exact date to look for. Use Google or DuckDuckGo (a search engine that doesn't track you) to search [newspaper title] [keywords] [year] to get started. For example, New York Times shipping san francisco 1959. Only major national newspapers will be indexed online - smaller ones can't afford to do it.

Where do I go? 

Unless you live in a remote area, the main branch of your local public library should have a microform machine and reels of major national newspapers and well as local ones that probably can't be found anywhere else. 

Public libraries in bigger cities will have more. Academic libraries and New York State Library will have the biggest collections. 

You can of course use any public library where you live, and once you've gotten a library card there, you can usually get an access card for other library systems in the region by asking at the circulation desk. 

As Empire State College faculty, staff, or students, you are entitled to use any SUNY or New York state community college library. You will need your college photo ID. You can also call CUNY libraries to see what arrangements they require for you to use their facilities - usually they require confirming your identity and adding a barcode to your college photo ID.

Many other academic libraries allow community members to come in and use their resources on site. It's always wise to call ahead. 

All New York State residents are entitled to use the New York Public Library - bring your driver's license or government photo ID.

Always call ahead if you want to use microform because the person who knows how to use the machine will have to set it up and instruct you. 


Microform is inherently visual, and the print can be small and low contrast. If you have a vision or reading disability, you may need to arrange for assistance. Please contact the college's Accessibility Resources and Services to come up with accommodations or alternatives to using microfilm.