From Metropolitan policemen to convicts transported to Australia, our selection of practical guides show you the websites and archives that will help you find your forebears.
Most families will have ancestors who appeared at some time or other in the local or national news.
Obituaries can give detail of the role an ancestor played in their local community, or the circumstances of their death that are not evident from the death certificate. You might discover that your ancestor spent time abroad or were involved in activities or societies of which you were previously unaware.
And if a death certificate indicates that an inquest was held, the details and verdict may appear in the local paper. Births, marriages and deaths were routinely reported, and sometimes a picture of a happy couple might appear.
You may also find details of trials and petty sessions, clubs and societies, sporting news, exam results, church news, advertisements for your ancestor’s shop or business and a multitude of articles providing a general flavour of contemporary life.
Where to consult newpapers
If your ancestor was involved in affairs that might have attracted a national interest, it is worth searching the Times Digital Archive, which is available at many local libraries and archives.
Copies of local papers should be kept at the local or county archive, and a superb national collection is held at the British Library Newspaper Library at Colindale in north London. The British Library has also digitised a large collection of 19th century newspapers, go to http://newspapers.bl.uk.
You can search through digital copies of the London, Belfast and Edinburgh Gazettes for free online at: www.gazettes-online.co.uk. The Guardian and Observer newspapers have a fee-based service for searching their archives (email firstname.lastname@example.org) while other press archives are available at www.ukpressonline.co.uk/ukpressonline/open/index.jsp.
Local papers were usually published at least weekly, and sometimes daily, so if you are searching for a record of a particular event, it is a good idea to have as precise a date as possible before you begin. If you know only that an event took place in the early 1900s, you may have to search many hundreds of newspapers before you find your piece.