The citizens of Pennsylvania published almost 10,000 different newspapers over the past 300 years. The good news for family history researchers is that many newspapers are digitized and online. You can search them from the comfort of your own home anytime.
Digitized newspapers available online are just a sampling of the total newspapers published. There is no comprehensive guide to all the newspapers published in the state. The county genealogical or historical societies are experts on newspapers published for their counties.
On websites hosting digitized newspapers, the search feature allows you to enter any key words you would like to use. These sites use optical character recognition (OCR) technology to translate your key words into the image of that word as it would look on the newspaper page. OCR allows you to go beyond indexed names and dates of usual genealogy records.
For example, you could search your ancestor’s hometown paper for “Civil War,” or the more common term of the time in PA “War of the Rebellion,” and find get general news of the day. Of course obituaries, estate claims, funeral notices, and marriage notices give us key information on our ancestors. I’ve also had fun looking up ancestors’ birthdays on various years to see the top story of the day.
Some of the newspaper sites are paid subscription services, but the PA based ones are free. Be sure to check out the catalog at the PA State Library for microfilm copies of newspapers. No, they are not digital, but they can be sent to you interlibrary loan. If you are need of that information, it can be worth scrolling through to get it.
Checkout newspapers to get wonderful historical context for your ancestors.
Digitized Pennsylvania Newspaper Collections
Google Newspaper Archive (free)