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Extra, Extra, Read All About It

June 7, 2018

Learning the whereabouts of family members and loved ones was one of the earliest acts of freedom undertaken by African American slaves who were liberated by The Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.


Information Wanted Ad, The Freeman (Indianapolis, IN), March 31, 1894, Accessed from Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery.

The vehicle of discovery was notices placed in newspapers as advertisements under the heading “Lost Relatives” or “Information Wanted.” Historian and Villanova University professor Judith Giesberg, PhD, began a process of unearthing these ads using microfilmed newspapers. Because of this initiative, and others like it, Villanova University’s library recently increased its access to diverse and historically significant newspapers and periodicals in digital format. Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery as a digital humanities project has blossomed and gotten media attention.

When working with newspapers researchers quickly realize most content is not free. Our library buys access to the Philadelphia Inquirer (1981- present) and many other newspapers via NewsBank and other databases like “America’s Historical Newspapers: 1690-1922” from Readex. Other major sources of newspaper content that we have are ProQuest Historical Newspapers, Nexus Uni, and Accessible Archives.


Article Headline, Catholic Transcript (Hartford, Connecticut), Volume LXVIII, Number 31, November 26, 1965, Accessed from The Catholic News Archive.

As critical as these costly options are, librarians should not neglect their “step-sisters.” Web-based portals with free open access to newspaper content which are incredibly valuable to scholars, such as:

Large and small, these mostly niche digitization projects are resources librarians will find invaluable and libraries should support. For a robust listing of newspaper digitization projects visit the International Coalition on Newspapers (ICON) Webpage on the Center for Research Libraries: Global Resources Network site.

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