In the “old” days, all you could do is browse through newspapers, either by flipping through original newsprint one page at a time or by scanning through microfilm copies, also one page at a time. And you can still (and should) do that, since only a small percentage of historical newspapers have been digitized.
Some online sites are browse only and some (such as the Community History Archive) allow you to browse and search as well.
Browse is sometimes a very effective way to find articles that the OCR process did not pick up correctly. What that means is that the index created by the OCR process does not match the intended letters from the original scanned copy, so browsing may be your ONLY way to find an article. This is very important to know. More on this a little later in this article.
How the Community History Archive Allows You to Browse
Here is how the Community History Archive presents the two Browse options, available from the Home Page:
To Browse by Title, you simply choose the title of the publication that you are interested in browsing through. After you click on the title, you are presented with every page available in the database, sorted by date and page number. You then can click on your desired page and date and browse.
The second option available from the Home Page is to Browse by Year:
To Browse by Year, you simply choose your desired year. You will be presented with the results for only those pages and titles that are in the database for that year. Also, you will be presented with a selection of months of publication for that title as well as the days of publication for that title. (Images not shown here). You can combine the Browse by Title and Browse by Year after you select the desired title.
General Browse Concepts
Many online collections like the Community History Archive have a browse as well as a search feature. As stated previously, because the index may not reflect the original letters and words in the source newspaper, you may not be able to find articles of interest just by searching.
You can “smart browse” however. What I mean by this is that many newspapers tended to have the same sections on the same page number from daily edition to daily edition for a number of years.
For example, obituaries may have generally been on Page 16. So, if you know the death date, you can look at Page 16 in the newspaper for the death date and the same page for a week or two after the death date. I have found many obituaries this way, when the OCR created index did not pick up the name correctly. They may not always be on the same page forever as newspapers expanded or contracted in the number of page published for every issue.
- National and/or state news might be on page 1 and 2, and local news on page 3
- Birth and marriage licenses – generally found in the vitals section – usually on the same page from edition to edition
- Local human interest news about residents in the area
- Engagements and marriage announcements often found in the Society or Women’s sections
- Legal notices, real estate transactions, etc. are often on the same page for a number of years.
- and many more.
The moral is that because the same sections tended to be on the same page number – if you have an idea of the date of the event ahead of time, you can browse from edition to edition using that event date as a starting point. You would be amazed at what you can find if you Browse rather than always relying on searching and the search index.
Browsing is definitely worth it and may be your only option. Do not discount this important feature, whether online or offline. Make it part of your research repertoire. You will be glad you did.