Even if your ancestor wasn't famous, there is a chance that his or her name was published in a newspaper at some point. It may be something as simple as a reference to them in a birth, marriage, anniversary or obituary notice. Perhaps he or she was interviewed in reference to a local event.
If you have holes in your family tree, an article in a newspaper may be enough to fill in the blanks. I recently came across a 1987 article about my husband's grandparents renewing their vows on their 50th wedding anniversary. It was a short article, only 7 paragraphs, but it yielded a large amount of information, some of which I knew already, but a lot that I didn't.
- Their address at the time of the article
- Their exact wedding date
- The name of one daughter and her husband
- The date and location of that daughter's wedding (They had renewed their vows during the daughter's wedding ceremony)
- The name of their son and his wife
- The date of their wedding (they shared the same anniversary, but were on their 28th)
- The name of a second daughter and her husband
- The name of that daughter's child
- Where the second daughter and her family lived
- The name of a third daughter
- Where the third daughter lived
- The name of the woman's sister and her husband
- Where that couple lived
- When the man had retired and from where
- Where the woman had retired from
- Where they had previously lived
- When they moved
- Some of their hobbies
- The number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren they had at the time
- A photograph of the couple
While searching newspaper archives isn't guaranteed to work on all of your ancestors, it's worth a shot. The first two names I searched were unsuccessful, but you see the genealogy jackpot I hit on my husband's grandparents.
Google News Archive offers digitized newspapers going back to the 1700s. Once you have searched and found results, you can narrow the date range. It's important to remember that while many of the results are free, some do require a fee or subscription. However, I have found that the excerpt given by Google in the results is usually sufficient for you to determine whether you have the correct person before you make a purchase.
Free Newspaper Archives is not a search engine. Instead, it points you in the right direction. You select the region your ancestor lived in and it will give you a page of links to collections that may help. The majority are free. For those that do require a fee, they note that up front so you can decide whether or not to search that collection or not.