African American newspapers are one place to look for news about black communities that wasn’t always reported in the popular press. It’s possible to find names, marriages, and births and deaths in these collections. (And for African American research you won’t want to limit yourself to strictly African American newspapers, just don’t overlook them.)
I’m easily distracted in newspaper research and find myself just reading random articles which isn’t a very efficient use of time, but I have one relative I could only trace through newspapers. He was in the theater circuit and moved from city to city and lied about his age. I found his family by following him through newspapers. They’re a valuable resource but it’s easy to get sidetracked and just soak up the historical context. That’s my disclaimer if you lose a day or more in newspapers.
Fee/Subscription African American Newspapers
Accessible Archives has 9 African American newspapers ranging from 1827 to 1909. “The collection also provides a great number of early biographies, vital statistics, essays and editorials, poetry and prose, and advertisements all of which embody the African-American experience.”
Ancestry.com has a collection called US, African American Newspapers, 1829-1947 with over 200 African American newspapers.
Genealogy Bank touts itself as being the “largest newspaper archive for genealogy research.” I’ve used their site before and it was a fast and efficient way to get newspaper search results. From what I remember, I paid for limited access, so only a certain number of searches/month but they have an unlimited access subscription price of $35.00 for 6 months which seems very reasonable. “Search our expansive collection of African American newspapers to discover the details about the daily lives of millions of Black Americans from 1827-1999.”
ProQuest used to be the company for digitized papers and they have a collection called ProQuest Historical Newspapers – Black Newspapers. “Each of the nine Historical Black Newspapers provides researchers with unprecedented access to perspectives and information that was excluded or marginalized in mainstream sources. And, all are cross-searchable with all other ProQuest Historical Newspapers–including The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times–allowing researchers to evaluate history from multiple points of view. …The ProQuest platform offers powerful and easy-to-use tools, including: full-page and article images in easily downloadable PDF format, complete newspaper runs, and the ability to search 21 different article types.”
Free African American Newspapers
TheAncestorHunt.com summarizes African American newspaper collections by state and has online tutorials for newspaper research. This site will list both fee and free collections.
BlackPast.org links to current Black/African American newspapers and says some of these papers have online archives. “Listed below are links to major African American newspapers, magazines and journals. In some instances these links also include the archives of these media sources.”
Chronicling America is the US Library of Congress’ website with free, digitized collections. They have a list of all known African American newspapers and where they can possibly be found (over 2,000 exist but most won’t be online). Or a list of 55 African American newspapers digitized and online at Chronicling America. There’s a new free app, OldNews USA, currently only for Android phones, which aids in searching newspapers at Chronicling America. OldNews USA won the 2017 RootsTech Innovator Showdown so it’s worth checking out if you want to search these papers on a handheld device. (Be sure to search all the papers at Chronicling America, not just the African American ones I linked to above.)
I’ve added smaller collections as I’ve found them including runaway slave advertisements from newspapers, and collections related to slaves (not newspapers and not necessarily African American), and also some general African American collections, not just newspapers. My site is a bit slow to search so my apologies in advance-site speed is on my to-do list.
Wikipedia has a good article on African American newspapers as well as a couple of books that are recommended as “essential starting points for understanding the early history of African American newspapers.” This article also includes the names of some African American newspapers, not nearly as complete as the one found at Chronicling America.
I’ve had my best newspaper successes with subscription sites, because they do the work for me and return the specific newspaper page I need to see, so it’s harder to just browse the paper. But, some of these papers and free sites will have search engines that may yield similar results. Again, I almost hate to recommend newspaper research because it’s so easy to lose track of time, but if you’re learning the history and culture of the area where your ancestors lived, I guess that’s time put to good use. Best in your searches, whether they’re fee or free!