The WDYTYA? 12-Week Family History Challenge: Week 8 – Newspapers
Whether they fell foul of the law or competed in a local sporting event, it's quite possible that stories of your ancestors' exploits made it into print. In Week 8 of our Family History Challenge, Laura Berry offers her top tips for exploring historic newspapers
In her episode of Who Do You Think You Are? Amanda Holden turned to old newspapers to find out more about her 5x great grandfather who lived in the early 19th century before census returns were available.
There are many newspapers online now and they can sometimes provide the most detailed information you’ll find about an ancestor anywhere.
Obituaries, stories of men and women who saw military action, reports on criminal activities, anti-social behaviour and even prize winners at local agricultural shows feature in millions of pages from regional newspapers digitised at British Newspaper Archive and taken from the British Library’s national collection.
The same content can also be searched on Findmypast and GenesReunited. These papers and many more (digital, microfilmed and original) can be accessed for free in the British Library Newsroom at St Pancras.
In a similar vein, the National Library of Wales has launched newspapers.library.wales, putting online 15 million articles from its collection of English and Welsh titles, which can be viewed for free.
More than 15 million pages have been uploaded to the free Welsh Newspapers Online service
Most large libraries and county archives also have facilities for reading collections of local papers on microfilm.
Newsplan was an initiative started in the 1980s to preserve regional newspaper holdings, and now there are databases to help members of the public find copies of papers held by libraries in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, South West England, the East Midlands and East of England and in London.
Many local libraries can give members free access to major subscription databases like 19th Century Newspapers (which includes a selection of the titles available at the British Newspaper Archive) and The Times Digital Archive.
Most national papers still in circulation have online archives which can be searched for free, although you will need to pay to view the pages. For example, The Guardian and Observer can be accessed here, while The Daily Mirror, Daily Express and Sunday Express are available at ukpressonline.co.uk.
Copies of the Scotsman going back to 1817 have been uploaded to archive.scotsman.com and The Irish Newspaper Archives contains one of the largest collections of online titles for the country at irishnewsarchive.com.
Some local newspapers have been digitised and made available via independent archive websites, such as the Teesdale Mercury
There are lots of online indexes for local papers created by volunteers. Transcriptions from old Merseyside newspapers can be searched for free at old-merseytimes.co.uk and there’s an index of 22,000 people mentioned in 1914–1918 editions of The Cumberland News at ww1search.cumberlandnews.co.uk. Pages from the Teesdale Mercury have been scanned, and these can be searched for free here.
Military citations, notifications of bankruptcies, changes of name, probate notices and business announcements were published in The Gazette, an official public record established in 1665. The entire run has been scanned and can be searched at The Gazette.
If your ancestors went abroad then they may be named in one of the international titles which are available for free at news.google.com/newspapers, or elephind.com, which filters other sites like trove.nla.gov.au (run by the National Library of Australia).
A list with links to loads of newspaper databases from around the world and including the UK available here highlights those that are free to use.
Week 8 tasks
Find out which newspapers covered the area where your ancestors lived by asking local archives or libraries in that region.
- See if any of them have been digitised at British Newspaper Archive.
Don't miss next week’s guide (Monday 16 January) for free expert advice on finding your ancestors' death records