Find a wealth of information about the 19th and 20th Centuries in newspapers | Tracing Our Roots

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The 20th century is well-represented in local newspapers. The Jersey Journal began publishing on May 2, 1867 and continues to publish to this day – in the 21st century. The Hudson Dispatch (published out of Union City) covered Hudson County (mostly North Hudson) from 1900 to 1991 and the Hoboken-based Jersey Observer published from 1924 to 1951.

That’s quite a lot of pages to check for obituaries, birth and wedding announcements, and general news about your family members. Oh, and don’t forget the sports pages as well.

But what about the 19th century? Well, if you had family in Hudson County in the 1800s, have I got some good news for you.

The Jersey City Free Public Library has digitized its microfilm collection of 19th century newspapers and made them available on its website (https://jerseycity.advantage-preservation.com/). This digital collection is made up of more than 80,000 pages of text from 22 different newspapers.

And get this: It’s free. No subscription, no membership fees, no library card necessary. Many of the library’s resources require a library card in order to access the information. Not this one.

A couple of these newspapers pre-date the creation of Hudson County, which didn’t exist until 1840, when it split from Bergen County. Some papers only have a few hundred pages scanned. These are mostly weekly papers that lasted maybe a year or two. Others have thousands of pages scanned and were dailies that published for several years.

Some of the scanned images are difficult to read. I’m not sure when these pages were microfilmed, but it must have been first generation technology. These images are a challenge, even with human eyes. The text from the pages has been pulled from the images by optical character recognition software, OCR for short. That text is available through the database as well, but it’s not for the faint of heart. It can look like pure gibberish in parts, but you can make your way through it.

If you’re interested in local coverage of the Civil War, the American Standard is the newspaper you’ll want to explore. I just looked through the issue of April 10, 1865, which reported on the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. The coverage included the correspondence between the two commanding officers prior to the surrender.

Another resource for local Hudson County news in the late 19th and early 20th century is the Jersey City News, available at the Library of Congress website, Chronicling America (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87068097/issues/). This newspaper bridges the centuries having been published from 1889 to 1906.

It’s been said that news is the rough first draft of history and now this excellent resource is available for genealogists and local historians.

Danny Klein is a librarian at the Jersey City Free Public Library’s New Jersey Room and a founding member of the Hudson County Genealogical and Historical Society. He can be reached at hudsongenealogy@gmail.com or @HudsonGenealogy on Twitter

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