Monday, September 4, 2017

7 tips for searching newspapers on Trove

The digitised newspaper collection at Trove, the National Library of Australia site, is an amazing (and free) resource. It proved invaluable when I was doing the research for my book about Susan Mason. Trove has many more resources available besides newspapers of course - maps, diaries, journals, government gazettes, and videos, to name but a few - but for those researching their family history, or other historical events, newspapers can be a fantastic source of information.

If you're lucky you might even find images related to your search. This photo of  Adelaide Police Magistrate, Mr Samuel Beddome, comes from the Evening Journal, 1 Sept 1888.
The Trove site itself offers  a comprehensive online help page on how to search the newspaper collection effectively, but I thought I would list a few tips that I've found most useful in my own research. For starters, I suggest going straight to the Advance Search page.

1. Start with a fairly wide search under Places and Titles. Even if you know that someone only ever lived in one state, include newspapers from all the states in your search to begin with. (This is the default if you don't tick any boxes). News items were commonly shared from one newspaper to another, within states and interstate, so even if the search misses an item in a local newspaper, you might find a similar item elsewhere. You may even find relevant news from overseas newspapers published in Australian newspapers.

2. Don't restrict the publication date too much. You may know the person you are looking for died in, say, 1860, but search beyond this date. You might come across an "in memorium" notice, one or several years later. The same goes for other events, not just deaths. Newspapers often published anniversary articles many years after an event.

3. Try variations and spelling 'mistakes'. If you're looking for a person's name, use as many variations as you can think of in your search. For instance, to find items mentioning John Mason, I searched for "John Mason", "Mr Mason", "J Mason", and "Jno. Mason". (Jno was often used as an abbreviation for John, just as Thos was used for Thomas and Hy for Henry.) Sometimes it's worth trying some deliberate mis-spellings of a name as well.

4. Make good use of excluded words. If your search brings up a lot of items that are similar to what you're looking for but irrelevant, use the box labelled "without these items" to get rid of most of them. The results of my search for "John Mason" included a lot of items about a much more famous Rev. John Mason Neale. I also got a lot of results referring to Masonic meetings. By putting "Neale" and "Masonic" in the "without these words" box, I could exclude many of them.

5. Build on what you've found. Once you've found an article that you are fairly sure refers to the person you're looking for, look carefully for other information in the article that might be useful in narrowing down or expanding your search. For instance, I discovered from one article that Susan Mason lived in Currie Street in Adelaide. By combining "Currie" with "Mason" I found several other references to people named Mason in Currie St. Other clues helped me decide whether these were about the right family or not.

Similarly, after finding a funeral notice for Brother John Mason inserted by the Court Perseverance of the Foresters, I was able to search for "Mason" with "Court Perseverance" and/or "Foresters" to find other articles that mentioned him. I also did some research about who the Foresters were, which helped me to understand why John Mason might have been a member.

6. Don't rely on the article titles in search results. When going through the results of a search, don't take too much notice of the article titles shown in bold capitals. Scan the snippet of news instead, if there's one provided. The search results seem to use the closest heading on the page, but the item you want may not have a heading, or the heading may be too small to get noticed. I found an article about the Court Perseverance annual dinner listed under the heading "Representation of Willunga" in the search results. The heading referred to the previous item and had nothing to do with the item about the dinner underneath it. I've also found several useful short articles listed under "Advertising". Birth, marriage and death announcements are not always under "Family notices".

7. Get updated results on your search. The information on the Trove newspaper site is being updated and corrected all the time. After doing a search, you can ask to be sent an email alert whenever new results are available, by clicking on the "Subscribe to this webfeed" link down at the bottom of the page of search results.

Don't forget that newspapers are not always accurate! Once you've found information from a newspaper, always try to check it out some other way. My own experience is that the information in most newspapers from the past has been pretty reliable, and has sometimes provided invaluable clues about dates of birth, marriage and death, and family relationships. But it's always better to have more than one source of information.

Do you have a favourite tip of your own for using Trove newspaper searches? Why not share it with everyone in the comments below.


  1. Here are two more very useful resources that others have provided
    1.Shelley Crawford - Searching birth notices:
    2. Barbara Kernos - A free ebook giving full details on how to search Trove

  2. I use Trove's "Tags" to mark articles that I believe to be relevant to a particular family member. I sometimes also use Trove's "Comments" to mark articles that I believe to be NOT relevant to a particular family member, to save me the time of re-researching an article.

    If you're searching for a particular name e.g. "James Hendersen", and find nothing of relevance, you can expand that search by changing it to "James Hendersen"~5 to find articles which contain James and Hendersen within 5 words of each other.

    On the right hand side of the screen, are results for mentions in Government Gazettes.

    Trove also contains photographs.

    I always "login" when I'm using Trove, and correct most articles that I research. I also correct people's names in articles near the article of interest, as my part in making more Trove articles more available to more people, since genealogists mostly search by name. Trove is a fantastic resource.

    1. Thanks for sharing these tips.I must admit I haven't got involved with correcting the text on Trove, but I like your suggestion about at least correcting names.

  3. Some good tips, Stella. I've saved your post to Pinterest for future reference.