Newspapers can be used to find valuable genealogical information about historical events in the lives of our ancestors. They supply all sorts of clues about vital statistics (birth, marriage, and death announcements), obituaries, local news, biographical sketches, legal notices, immigration, migration, and shipping information and other historical items that place our ancestors in the context of the society in which they lived.
Newspapers are intended for general readers, usually serve a geographic region, and may also be oriented toward a particular ethnic, cultural, social, or political group. Newspapers record the day-to-day or even week-to-week happenings of local community events. They act almost as a diary for events that took place in a certain locality.
Because newspapers are generally geographic in scope they are not limited to governmental jurisdictions; therefore, they can include such things as the report of a wedding of local citizens, even when it occurred in a neighboring county or even another state. Newspapers can also provide at least a partial substitute for nonexistent civil records. For example, an obituary may have appeared in a newspaper even when civil death records did not exist.
Newspapers are not restricted to or bound by the regulations or forms used by more "official" sources. Additionally, because newspapers are unofficial sources, even when they merely supplement the public records, they can provide much incidental information that is simply not recorded anywhere else. For example, a newspaper account of a marriage might indicate that it took place at the home of the bride's parents, perhaps even naming them; it might list the occupation of the groom, or indicate that the ceremony was part of a double wedding in which the bride's sister was also married. These types of details are not likely to appear on a marriage record at the local courthouse.
While newspapers created in large cities were most often concerned with international, national, and state affairs they can contain valuable information about local individuals and should not be passed over. In contrast, small country or community newspapers were concerned with local people and their immediate surroundings and are often rich in genealogical and historical information.
Newspapers are wonderful sources and should not be missed!
Taken from "Chapter 12: Research in Newspapers," The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy by James L. Hansen; edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking (Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry Incorporated, 1997).