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FYI 102: Practical Genealogy (Bengtson) - Newspaper Guide

A guide to using library resources for your Practical Genealogy projects.

Library Resources

Augustana Observer & Rockety-I Database

Augustana Observer: Available from 1902-2016 (w/ more recent on the Observer's website)

Rockety-I Yearbook: Available from 1900-2004

NOTE: You must use Internet Explorer in order to access the full functionality of these online databases. 


Using the Database: 

  1. Pay attention to Instructions. These databases often are difficult to navigate at first, and following the instructions that the Special Collections librarian has created for you will save you a lot of time. You can find the full instructions HERE
  2. Turn off the pop-up blocker. Your built-in pop-up blocker may prevent you from accessing content. 
  3. Use the Control bars to do the heavy lifting. You can limit your results/ refine your searches using both the top and side bar options of the database. 
  4. Important Features to Note: 
    1. ​Stem - Lets you control if the database searches for your exact keyword(s) or also searches for words that begin with the same letters. 
    2. Fuzz - on/off lets you control whether or not the system does 'fuzzy' searching. Newsprint can often be misinterpreted by  scanners, and this feature allows the database to return results that are close, but not exact, matches for your terms. 

Pay attention to any of the following: 

  • Alumni News or Alumni Notes
  • Alumni Events
  • Alumni Endowment Funds
  • In memorium

Chronicling America - Library of Congress

"The Newspaper Title Directory is derived from the library catalog records created by state institutions during the NEH-sponsored United States Newspaper Program (, 1982-2011. This program funded state-level projects to locate, describe (catalog), and selectively preserve (via treatment and microfilm) historic newspaper collections in that state, published from 1690 to the present."

A Few Tips: 
Here are a few tidbits for you to consider as you are searching for information related to yourselves and others. 


My recommendation to you all is to start with Illinois newspapers, then perhaps Iowa - but don't be afraid to search nationally as well. Your subject(s) may have ventured beyond this immediate area. 

Paper Names

Because the digitized files are coming from a variety of different libraries, there may be subtle differences in the way in which publications are named. So, for example, The Rock Island Argus may be listed under Rock Island Argus, The Rock Island Argus and Daily Union, Rock Island Daily Argus, etc. Differences may also appear if the newspaper has changed its name throughout history. 


Remember that acceptable language and vocabulary changes over time, and historical newspapers may use different terminologies than what would be used today or is acceptable today. Consider the chart below that was created by the Library of Congress, for example: 

Modern Usage vs. Historic Usage comparison table

Modern Usage

Historic Usage

gas, service station

filling station

African American

Afro American, Negro

voting rights



Use the names of towns, landmarks, bridges, buildings, and other geographic features as they would have been when the materials you are searching were created. For instance, the state of Oklahoma was referred to as both "Indian Territory" and "Oklahoma Territory" prior to its admission as a state, so searching for "Indian Territory" may produce more search results if searching on topics related to Oklahoma.

Other Illinois Newspapers the Library has Subscriptions to: 

Additional National and International Newspaper Sources: 

A Few Things to Keep in Mind as You Search...

  • Are you taking your time and searching as thoroughly as possible in the resource? Based on how these databases are constructed, a single letter difference or space difference can radically change the results you get. Searching once and then moving on is NOT going to get you a full picture of what is in the source. 
  • Where are you getting your information from? Where did that source get its information from?
    What sorts of guarantees do you have that the content you are looking at is accurate? Remember that you should be treating this like a research project you are doing for any of your other classes - if asked, can you provide citations for all of the information you have so far? Are you using credible sources? Or are you just trusting whatever the internet tells you is true?
  • What makes facts do you already know that are certain? Does the new information you found fit logically within what you know of that person's life?
    Does the information you have found contradict anything you found earlier? How do you go about determining which one is accurate? Have you found information that really doesn't make sense? 
  • Did the individual undergo a name change at any point?
    Remember that individuals often changed their names while immigrating. Individuals will also often change their names when they marry or remarry. They may also go by a middle name or a nickname. Some may hyphenate last names, others may not, etc.
  • How common is the individual's name?
    Is it likely that there are many other people out there with the same name as your individual? How do you determine if you have found the right one? Do they have any family members with the same name (parent, grandparent, sibling, children, etc.)?
  • Are there possible different spellings of the name? 
    Could the person's name in the document have been spelled incorrectly? Could it have been abbreviated (i.e. J. Smith  vs. John Smith vs. Jonathan Smith vs. J.P. Smith vs. John P. Smith, vs. John Paul Smith, etc.)
  • Always be sure to look at entire publication, not just snippets.