Friday, November 18, 2011

6 Reasons to Search Old Newspapers

At some point in your family history research, you're likely to find newspapers useful.
  • To find birth, marriage, and death intimations of family members, particularly those who have moved away from the rest of the family.
  • To get detail on events in ancestors' lives.
  • To understand your ancestors' lives in the context of local and social history.
  • To gain perspective on opinion of historical events.
  • To find mentions of ancestors and discover hitherto unknown facts.
  • To find wills relating to ancestors as a lead to their deaths or property ownership.
I’ve searched for my family surnames in 19th century newspapers and found quite a lot, however, I will need to cross-check all the articles with other information I’ve found in birth, marriage and death certificates, and the censuses and make sure they are my ancestors or their siblings. I’ve found some items I wasn’t expecting: the marriage of the daughter of someone who I suspect is my 2 greats uncle but who, I was told, had no children; and the marriage of a daughter (previously unknown to me who doesn’t appear in any of the censuses I’ve found) to his brother.

I registered with the National Library of Scotland, and I can access the Burney collection of 17th and 18th century newspapers from Britain and the colonies; 48 19th century newspapers (though unfortunately, no Borders newspapers); the digital archive of the ephemera collection of the Bodleian Library, Oxford; the Times newspaper (1785 to 1985); the Economist newspaper/magazine (1843-2006), as well as the full text of a huge number of printed books, and it's all free, because I'm a Scottish resident. Much of it is available online through my computer, but for some of it, I would need to go to Edinburgh, so if you don't have a computer you can access it there.

For people not resident in Scotland, the British Newspaper Archive might be useful.
I was privileged, last week, to see the beta (test) version of the online British Newspaper Archive. In my view, it was a shambles, it just didn't work properly; I was surprised they had the audacity to charge for it.
Their registration process was overly complex, the confirmation emails did not arrive, and though one could login, the archive searches did not work as expected. After several days an email did arrive, though whether it was the confirmation email, I don't know. After clicking a link, one could access a search but the newspaper image was too blurred to read. The help pages weren't helpful, nothing about system requirements, suitable browsers, or troubleshooting.
I hope that it will be tested exhaustively on several browsers before it becomes live.

I've blogged previously about Australian Trove. Trove has a huge number of Australian newspapers and it's free.

I've also written about Papers Past - New Zealand Newspaper Archive. Papers Past provides access to 68 New Zealand from 1839 to 1945, and it's free.

If you have a favourite newspaper archive, please let me know.


Harry D. Watson said...

The National Library of Scotland may not have put any Borders newspapers online, but I know that it at least has back numbers of the "Kelso Mail", as I found details of an ancestor of mine from Hawick in a wanted notice in the KM of July 1808. The same notice was published simultaneously in the "Edinburgh Evening Courant" which I was able to access across the road in the Central Public Library.

This was way back in the days before computers became widespread, and before online genealogy became the craze it is now.


Peter Munro said...

Thanks for your comment.
The Hawick Hub has the Kelso Chronicle and Kelso Mail on microfilm as well as lots of other papers - details of their holdings are at

Also, Duns Library has some issues of Berwickshire News, Galashiels Library has the Border Telegraph, Hawick Library has the Hawick Express.

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