How to read old newspapers online
Trace your family history in print with these online collections of old newspapers from Britain, America, Australia and more
If you’re interested in researching your family history or finding out more about history in general, old newspapers are a great resource to explore. Even if your ancestors weren’t famous, you can discover all sorts of details about their lives in old newspapers – from birth, marriage and death announcements, to adverts for their businesses, to newsworthy events such as civic celebrations, strikes and disputes, sporting events and works outings, and court cases and inquests. Luckily, many old newspapers are now available to search in online archives. Here are some places to get started:
The best old newspaper websites
The British Newspaper Archive currently has over 50 million pages of old newspapers from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, as well as specialist publications, and new pages are being added all the time. You can access it either pay-per-view or with a subscription. It is also included as part of a ‘Pro’ subscription to Findmypast. Both websites also now offer free access to millions of pages.
This is the old newspapers hub for the US Library of Congress, where you can search through digitised copies of newspapers and other publications that were printed between 1777 and 1963. You can choose to limit your research by state, date range or specific publication. There’s also a directory of the old newspapers published in the USA since 1690 (not all of which have been digitised), which can help you to identify what titles exist for a specific place and time.
This long-running collaboration between the National Library of Australia and the country’s libraries and archives is an excellent place to find old newspapers down under. There are lots of advanced search features to help you filter down results. You can also focus on particular states or territories, or look through individual titles by date, or the category of newspaper article.
This website launched in 2013 and boasts about 15 million old newspaper articles, again searchable by categories (such as family notices, advertisements and news), or by individual issues, date or region. Each comes with a brief history of the newspaper, and a calendar showing the issues available. There are lots of Welsh-language and bilingual old newspapers, although you can also choose to limit your searches within English or Welsh-language text. In addition, the website lets you know of the number of hits in sister sites Welsh Journals and tithe maps hub Places of Wales.
The National Library of Scotland’s online collection of nearly 1,800 broadsides describes them as the ‘tabloids of their day’. These early newspapers would be pinned to walls to share public notices, news, speeches and songs. You can search by keyword, or browse by title or subject – which include accidents, body-snatching, hiring fairs, temperance, treason and trials. One “Atrocious Case of Murder and Theft”, for example, offers a “particular account” of the trial and sentence of Margaret Boag on Monday 19 January 1824.
Chosen by Graham S Holton, editor of Tracing Your Ancestors Using DNA (2019):
"Provided by the National Library of New Zealand, Papers Past is a user-friendly site containing old newspapers from 1839–1950 in addition to material from magazines and journals.
"There is a facility to browse the old newspapers by title, region within New Zealand, or year, and an easy-to-use search interface. The results of an initial search can be refined by date using a slider, and it is also possible to filter results by titles, regions and types of content. Search results display a preview of the entry and the user can then click to display the full article, with the search terms highlighted.
"The text of the article can also be viewed, with the usual inaccuracies appearing because of the process of optical character recognition (OCR) used to create the automated transcription. The site does not yet have the wonderful facility allowing users to correct the OCR text that its Australian equivalent Trove does, but this is planned as a future enhancement. Finally, there are easy-to-use options to print or save a page as required.
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"Overall it’s a very valuable site that is completely free to use, and an essential resource for anyone researching ancestors who lived in New Zealand."
More websites for researching old newspapers
Learn more about the library’s collection of over 34,000 old newspapers.
The National Archives’ online catalogue lists old newspaper collections held by local libraries and archives.
Access hundreds of old newspapers from all over the world, available through subscribing institutions. The Times Digital Archive is also available via Gale from most libraries and can often be accessed from home using a library card from your library website.
10. The Gazette
11. The Guardian
Search and download pages from The Guardian and The Observer dating from 1791 to 2003. Subscription model with an option to buy a bigger package that will give you access to all papers on Newspapers.com.
12. Internet Archive
This website has all kinds of freely available old newspapers.
Here you can browse a collection of Manx old newspapers free of charge.
Search the online editions of six old newspapers including the Chartist newspaper the Northern Star.
Explore back issues of this County Durham newspaper, which has been published since 1854.
Jonathan Scott is the author of A Dictionary of Family History