The WDYTYA? 12-Week Family History Challenge: Week 8 – Newspapers

By Guest, 9 January 2017 - 11:21pm

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

  • Missed last week's guide? Click here to go to Week 7: Military records
  • Download a free family tree chart to print and keep by clicking here

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, 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

Copies of the Scotsman going back to 1817 have been uploaded to and The Irish Newspaper Archives contains one of the largest collections of online titles for the country at

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 and there’s an index of 22,000 people mentioned in 1914–1918 editions of The Cumberland News at 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, or, which filters other sites like (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.
Find out if your local library can give you access to digitised newspapers from home.
  • Visit the British Library Newsroom in St Pancras or the Boston Spa Reading Room to access dozens of subscription newspaper databases for free.


Next week...

Don't miss next week’s guide (Monday 16 January) for free expert advice on finding your ancestors' death records

The WDYTYA? 12-Week Family History Challenge: Week 7 – Military records
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The WDYTYA? 12-Week Family History Challenge: Week 7 – Military records
previous blog Article
Transcription Tuesday 2017: Join the Operation War Diary team!
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