Newspapers are a rich source of information when it comes to researching your family history and for historical research in general.
Newspapers can give a real feel for what living in a certain era was like – you will see this reflected in the reporting style (which has changed significantly over the years) and even the advertisements.
Advertisements in the late 19th century tended to focus on self-improvement and how a product could help you, whereas by the 1920s, advertisements were focused more on fun and enjoyment, and used film and sports stars for promotion.
The first known English newsletter was published in 1549 (under the catchy title of Requests of the Devonshyre and Cornyshe Rebelles), but the oldest surviving newspaper, Berrow’s Worcester Journal started life in 1690 and was published regularly from 1709.
Other older newspapers which survive to this day include The Times, which started life as the Daily Universal Register in 1788, the Aberdeen Journal in 1748 (now the Press & Journal) and the Daily Telegraph which was the first penny national in 1855.
We use newspapers for our research at Finders, as we get all kinds of useful information from them. We get information such as records of birth, marriages and deaths (or hatches, matches and dispatches as it is often fondly referred to), but we also turn up occasional stories about a person who has died intestate whose life we are looking into when we try to trace missing beneficiaries.
Newspapers often provide us with a person’s common ancestry, which then helps us to find missing kin.
If you want to use newspaper for family history research, how do you go about it?
Start with the British Newspaper Archive, which is a partnership between the British Library and findmypast to digitise up to 40 million newspaper pages from the British Library’s collection over the next ten years. You can search the site for free, but if you want to view a newspaper you will need to pay a fee.
Another useful source is the Internet Library of Early Journals, which has 18th and 19th century journals, including the Blackwood’s Edinburgh Journal. Historical American newspapers can be found at Chronicling America, which has newspapers dating back to the late 17th century in its archives.
You can usually search online archives by newspaper title, place of publication or date range, so if you knew that you great-grandfather was killed in the First World War and you knew the date of his death, then you could search under place of publication and a date range around the time of his death of about two weeks.
The National Archives includes collections of the official newspapers of former British colonies and British dominions – useful if your family emigrated, and example countries include Canada, Jamaica and Kenya.
Another useful and incredible resource is the London Gazette, established in 1665 post the Great Plague of London. It includes info too from the Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes, as well as wills & probate, and insolvency notices.
Newspaper research can be done offline – the British Library and the National Libraries of Ireland, Scotland and Wales contain newspapers from the UK.
We’d love to know how you get on with your newspaper research, and if you have any tips for others embarking on their own searches. Let us know on our Facebook page.