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Keeping up with those who have passed

There are many ways to get your daily news updates these days. Facebook and Twitter have a lot of news blurbs. Each TV news network has apps and updates, as do the local TV stations. But I’m an old fashioned guy who wakes up in the morning before work, opens the garage door, walks out to the driveway and picks up a fresh copy of the daily newspaper. About three seconds later, I realize I’m not wearing any shoes or socks …

Being a genealogist, I don’t begin the morning newspaper with the headlines, local news or sports section. Yes, I turn immediately to the death notices! It’s important to start my day knowing whether or not someone I know has passed away, but I also can’t be 100 percent sure. Not everyone puts a notice in every paper. Some only use the suburban papers like the Daily Herald or the Southtown, some only use the Tribune, and some only use the Sun-Times. And I have relatives all over the United States and it’s not likely that any of them will post a notice in the Chicago papers.

Once I know that someone has passed, I turn to the national websites. I have touched on legacy.com as a source for death notices, and it is certainly a way to search the entire country. Another web site that has been tremendously helpful has been www.newspapers.com

There is no one site that contains every newspaper on-line and searchable. Just as there is no one library that has every newspaper on microfilm. Newspapers.com has quite a few, as far as I’m concerned more than any other site. So far, they have more than 6000 newspapers going back to the 1700s.

It is a very simple search. When I am looking for a death notice, I usually type the first and last name. I can type the married surname and the maiden surname and click the search magnifying glass, however, not every death notice lists the maiden name “Nee Johnson” so you might miss it. I also try searching for the child’s name in the hopes of finding the death notice for the parent.

As an example I typed in “Jean Maxwold”, who was Vincenza Favia when she was born. It’s a bit of an unusual name, so there are a total of 43 search results. Each result shows you a large thumbnail of the actual newspaper page, and the citation of the newspaper, date and page number.


On the left, you can use ways to narrow down the results. At the top left is a way to narrow by date. If you know the year, or the month and year that Jean died, you can type it here “June 2001”.

You can also use a small map to narrow down which state(s) the newspapers come from. You can click on the Illinois and it will change color. You can click more than one state.

You can also click on the names of the states if you don’t remember the shapes…..I was never very good at that!

Once you click on a result, the entire screen fills with the newspaper page and the search words you used are highlighted.

The best part is to click “Print/Save” and it will ask if you want the entire page or part of the page.

Click “Select Portion of the Page” to create a rectangular area. You click on the corners and move them to surround the death notice you need. Then click “save” or “print”. When you save it, it uses the newspaper name and date in the file name. You can save as JPG or PDF.

As with all newspaper sites, you get the advantage of being able to search all types of articles, not just death notices. I have a few cousins who were high school athletes who made the papers every week with their touchdown prowess. My girlfriend’s dad is quite the bowler, and according to the newspapers of 1911, so was one of his grand uncles! I have some relatives who were on the Chicago P.D. who arrested some nasty people.

Newspapers.com includes a number of very small suburban papers, which are difficult to find except at that town’s local library. So far, none of the old defunct Chicago papers are on this site, and the Sun Times is not here either. But the complete Chicago Tribune is to be found here!

And when you’re in a historically playful mood, find the way different papers covered a single famous event. December 7th 1941. Nov 22nd 1963. April 12 1945. Nov 11th 1918. Enter the famous date of your choice and don’t choose the newspaper.

And finally, yes Newspapers.com is not free. There are a number of subscription plans that sometimes depend on whether you subscribe to other genealogy sites. So rather than list prices that might not apply, just check it out and use the trial free subscription first, then decide if you need to continue.

Write me at italianroots@comcast.net and please put “Fra Noi” in the subject line.

About Dan Niemiec

Dan Niemiec has been the genealogy columnist for Fra Noi since 2004. For the past 25 years, he has researched his genealogy back 17 generations, plus tracing descendants of his ancestors, yielding 74,000 relatives. His major focus is on civil and church records in Italy, Chicago vital records, Chicago Catholic records and most major genealogy web sites. He has given dozens of presentations to many local and some national genealogy societies on topics such as cemetery research, Catholic records, Italian records, Ellis Island and newspaper research, among others.

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