Screenshot of historical newspaper with overlay that says Word around OCR errors in newspaper research

How to work around OCR errors in newspaper research

Are you struggling to do newspaper research for your ancestors because of the OCR errors make the name and keywords unsearchable?D

Discover several ways work around these challenges, even if you won’t like all of these suggestions.

What causes OCR errors in newspapers?

The quality of the images of old newspapers dramatically impacts the ability of the OCR scans to read articles in newspapers. about your ancestors through search. 

Ink smears, small fonts, confusing type, and faded news pages negatively impact the results of a computer scan. A computer doesn’t have 20/20 vision.

As such, transposed words and letters, misidentified characters, and skipped words will happen frequently. What can be done to overcome these challenges?

What should you do about OCR errors hindering your newspaper research?

In this video, I walk you through the following ways to work around OCRS errors in newspaper research.

Research Around OCR Errors When Using Newspapers in Genealogy
Watch this video on YouTube.

  1. Use OCR Substitutesyear
  2. Search for a β€œCluster” of Relatives and Associates
  3. Read the newspaper only for specific dates
  4. Read the newspaper for years or miss out

Common Substitutes to Use to Work Around OCR Errors in Newspaper Research

The following list of commonly misidentified letters will make your newspaper research difficult. When you have a name or keyword, substitute one or more of these combinations and dramatically increase your chances of finding articles.

b, h
D, 0, O
c, e, o
Z, 2
R, B
G, 0, O
G, 6
i, l, 1, /, !, and | 
en, em
v, y
S, 8, 5
B, *
HI, M
ine, the
n, r
rn, m, ar, n, em
nl, m
n , m
n, ri,
K, |<
i, t

Do Your Best

Murphy’s Law will say that after all the combinations you try, your ancestors are in the newspapers and in the one edition you chose not to read.

If you’re lucky, you will find wonderful pieces to help your genealogy research. If you want to learn more about how newspapers can help in your quest for more depth, check out this playlist of videos.

Playlist: Newspaper Research for Genealogist Playlist
Watch this playlist on YouTube

When you do find newspaper nuggets, be sure to use them to write better stories about your ancestors.

Do the best you can with newspaper research. It’s still a relatively new resource to access online. In time, perhaps the technology will improve. But for now, use these strategies or use another resource.

Screenshot of newspaper paper with a text box overlay with Research around OCR errors in newspapers

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

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