Essential Reading

'I have been a family historian for more than 40 years, and a professional historian for over 30, but as I read it, I was constantly encountering new ways of looking at my family history....Essential reading I would say!' Alan Crosby, WDYTYA Magazine

Friday, 19 January 2018

Tips From David Olusoga's 'A House Through Time' - Finding Your Ancestors in Newspapers

Your Ancestors in Newspapers

David Olusoga's  wonderful A House Through Time  (Thursdays BBC2 9pm) has made clever use of historic newspapers in its quest to piece together the stories of the people who lived in 62 Falkner Street, Liverpool from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Last night's third episode was no exception with Olusoga turning up adverts for the house when it was rented out as flats and, more dramatically, alighting upon an account in a Victorian-era Manchester newspaper of a case of child abuse relating to one of the house's inhabitants. If you are researching the lives of ancestors anywhere in Britain over the last two hundred years, you also might find fascinating extra detail about their lives in the pages of old broadsheets. Here is some advice on where to look.

Many historic British newspapers  (including national, regional and specialist interest titles) have been digitised and can now be accessed and searched online by keyword  from the comfort of your own home either free or at a low cost. A keyword might be your ancestor's name, the address at which he lived, the company for which he worked or an association or interest group with which he was associated. Once found, relevant newspaper pages can often be downloaded to your computer, printed out for safekeeping and even sent to other interested family members by email or other messaging system.

Some old newspapers cannot yet be viewed on a home computer. These papers, however, might have been digitised by commercial companies and sold as packages to libraries, and institutes of higher and further education. If you are interested in looking at any newspapers in this category, the first step would be to identify the nearest such institutions to your home and then enquire which resources they have. Ask if you need to be a member of that institution to view the digitised material, or if you can buy a special day or weekly pass which will give you temporary access.

Click here for : Podcast of Episode One: A House Through Time

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How to find your ancestors in newspapers - family history - genealogy - A House Through Time - David Olusoga
Man seated reading a newspaper. Engraving by C. W. Sharpe after T. S. Goode, undated. Wellcome Images [CC BY 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

General British Newspapers and Periodicals

1. The British Newspaper Archive and FindMyPast

Free to search. Pay to view. Also free to view at the British Library’s Reading Rooms in St Pancras and Boston Spa, and at other subscribing libraries and Institutes of Further and Higher education.  

This digital archive, funded jointly by the British Library and D. C. Thomson Family History includes the full text of more than 600 newspaper titles from every part of the UK and Ireland (including local, national and regional titles), some going back to the eighteenth century. There are currently more than 15 million pages of text available with more content being added regularly. 

Entering through the British Newspapers Archive website, you can buy a monthly or yearly subscription or PayAsYouGo. Subscribers to the FindMyPast website can  get access to the newspapers as part of their subscription package.

2. UK Press Archive

Search for free. Pay to view.

Available in subscribing UK Institutions of Higher and Further Education

This resource includes: The Daily Mirror (1803-1980); Daily Express (1903- current); Church Times (1863-current); The Watchman (1835-1884); The Daily Worker (1930-1945); and The South Eastern Gazette (1852-1912) as well as some more recent titles.

3. Ancestry Newspaper Archive Online

Free to search. Pay to view.

The newspaper collection includes:  The Times (1788-1833); England Southern Railway Magazine (1840-1942); The Gentleman’s Magazine Library (1731-1868); The Liverpool Courier (1897-1898); The Edinburgh Advertiser (sporadically 1771-1909); The Bristol Times and Mirror (1897); The Liverpool Daily Post (1897) and many other titles.   

4. The Genealogist

Free to search. Pay to view.

The searchable newspaper resources include: The Channel Islands Monthly Review (1941-1945); Harper’s Magazine (1889); Illustrated London News (1842-1918); Illustrated War News (1914-1916); Jewish Chronicle (1905-1908); Ss Great Britain Times (1865); The B. e. f. Wipers Times and other Publications (1865); The Great War (1914-1919); The Sphere (1914-1915); War Illustrated (1914-1919)

For more sidelong glances at family history follow me: Ruth A Symes on Twitter 

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How to find your ancestor in a newspaper - family history - genealogy - A House Through Time - David Olusoga -
Woman Reading Newspaper by Istvan Nagy 1918, Wikimedia Commons

5. Internet Library of Early Journals

Free to search and view

This project (which finished in 1999) aimed to digitise at least twenty years’ worth of each of the following six eighteenth and nineteenth-century journals. The Annual Register; Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine; The Builder; The Gentleman’s Magazine; Notes and Queries; Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Each magazine can be searched individually by subject. No new material will be added to this site.

6. Gale News Vault Project

Free to search and view in subscribing UK libraries and Institutions of Further and Higher Education.

Digitised collections include: Daily Mail Historical Archive (1896-2004); Economist Historical Archive (1843-2008); Financial Times Historical Archive  (1888–2006); Illustrated London News Historical Archive 1842-2003; Independent Digital Archive, 1986-2012; Listener Historical Archive, 1929-1991; Picture Post Historical Archive, 1938-1957; Punch Historical Archive, 1841-1992; Sunday Times Digital Archive 1821-2006; Times Digital Archive (1785-1985).

7. The Waterloo Directory of English Newspapers and Periodicals (1800-1900)

Free to search.

This is a digitised index to 73,000 publications issued between 1800 and 1900. It is indexed by topic, names, towns and publishers’ names.  Find references to the topics you are interested in and then take your results to a library which holds back copies of the relevant publication.

has been indexed from 1829, the Belfast and Edinburgh Gazettes have been indexed only from 2002. Indexes are free to search online.

8. The Burney Collection (17th and 18th century)

Free to search and view at subscribing Libraries and Institutes of Further and Higher Institutions. (A joint project by The British Library and Gale Cengage Learning)

This includes over 1,270 newsbooks, newspapers, pamphlets and a variety of other news materials published in England, Ireland and Scotland, plus papers from the British colonies in Asia and the Americas. The papers were originally collected by the Reverend Charles Burney (1757- 1817) and consisted of around 700 bound volumes. They have now been greatly augmented. The data is fully searchable.

9.      Nineteenth-Century British Library Newspapers

Free to search and view at subscribing Libraries and Institutes of Further and Higher Education. (Managed by Gale Cengage)

The full text of 70 British newspapers from 1800 to 1900. This includes some London national dailies and weeklies, English regional dailies and weeklies; Scottish national, Scottish regional, Welsh, Irish and Northern Irish newspapers. Priority for inclusion has been to newspapers that were involved in promulgating political or social movements (e.g. Reform Chartism and Home Rule). Six selected papers are available to view freely online at www.  These are The Monthly Repository (1806-1837) and Unitarian Chronicle (1832-1833); Northern Star (1838-1852); Leader (1850-1860); English Woman’s Journal (1858-1864); Tomahawk (1867-1870), Publisher’s Circular (1880-1890).

10. The Guardian (1821-2003) and Observer (1791-1923) Digital Archive

Pay to search and view.

Over 1.2 million pages of the Guardian and the Observer newspapers dating back to 1791 including around 13 million articles. Includes information on big world affairs such as politics, sport, business, culture and science but also the important milestones in the lives of some people including birth and wedding announcements and obituaries.  You can subscribe for 1 day, 3 days or a month.

For more sidelong glances at family history follow me: Ruth A Symes on Twitter 

and/or on my dedicated facebook page Search My Ancestry (Facebook)

How to find your ancestor in a newspaper - family history - genealogy - A House Through Time - David Olusoga
A Woman Reading a Newspaper, by Norman Garstin, 1891
(Oil on Wood). Wikimedia Commons  

England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the Isle of Man

1.     The London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazette

Search and view for free

This has a special feature whereby you can search by event such as World I, World War II, Boer War 1889-1902, Great Fire of London 1666 (issue 85), First Awards of the Victoria Cross 1857 (issue 21971) and Battle of Trafalgar 1805 (issue 15858). The London Gazette has an index which is searchable from 1829 whilst the Edinburgh and Belfast Gazette indexes are searchable only from 2002.

2.     Some Local Papers – England

Free to search and view.

A few historic papers from England have been digitised by volunteers in separate small projects and are available to view freely. These include: The Teesdale Mercury (1855-2005) , (Donations welcome);  The Halifax Weekly Courier (during the period of the First World War) and The Slough, Eton and Windsor Observer,

3.     National Library of Scotland

Free to search and view in the National Library of Scotland. Register and pay to view online.

This digital collection includes items ranging from the earliest newspaper printed in Scotland, to modern online titles. It also includes hundreds of broadsides, the forerunners of tabloid newspapers. It includes access to the British newspaper archive which includes such Scots titles as the Ayr Advertiser, the Glasgow Herald and the Stirling Observer.

4.     The Scotsman

Free to register and search. Pay to view.

The Scotsman was a liberal weekly broadsheet first issued in 1817.  Searchable records go up to 1950.  Subscription packages for 2 days, 7 days, 30 days and 12 months can be purchased.

5.     Guide to Scottish Newspaper Indexes

This searchable list provides details of Scottish newspaper titles that have an index. The indexes themselves are likely to be card indexes kept in local archives.

6.     Index of Newspapers from the Highlands and Islands

Free to search.

A bilingual resource in English and Gaelic. Includes an index to articles carried in the newspapers of the Highlands and Islands between 1800-1939. Provides a summary of each article and a reference to the issue in which it appeared. Includes The Inverness Journal (1807-1849); The John O’Groat Journal (1836-1887); The Inverness Advertiser (1849-1885); The Scottish Highlander (1885-1898); The Inverness Courier (1879, 1898-1901, 1920-1939); Gairm (1952-2002).

7.     The Welsh Newspaper Archive

Free to search and view

Over a million newspaper pages from nearly 120 newspapers up to 1910. This digital collection also includes newspaper content from The Welsh Experience of World War One Project. The first newspaper to be published in Wales was the Cambrian from 1804 in Swansea. This was followed by The North Wales Gazette (1808)  and The Camarthen Journal (1810). The first Welsh language weekly was Seren Gomer in 1814 which saw itself as a national newspaper for the whole of Wales.

8.     Cambrian Index Online 

Free to search.

The Cambrian Index database contains hundreds of thousands of entries from newspapers relating to people and events occurring in an area roughly represented by the former county of West Glamorgan, Wales (mainly 1804-1881). All the newspaper's reported birth, marriage and death entries are extracted and indexed, regardless of location. Other articles are indexed by topic e.g. Transport, Ships and Shipping, Disasters and Accidents etc.

9.     The Irish News Archive

Free to search. Pay to view.

Millions of newspaper pages from all over Ireland. Includes a useful digital map so that you can see which newspapers were published in which area. You can subscribe for one day, by month or by year.  

10. The Irish 1916 Easter Rising News Archive

Free to search and view.

Ireland’s regional and daily newspapers during the 1916 Easter Rising. This includes the text of 33 contemporary newspapers including: The Evening Herald, The Cork Examiner and The Irish Independent.  

11. Manx National Heritage

Free to search. Pay to view. Or free access within the National Library and Archives of the Isle of Man, Manx Museum, Douglas, after registering and obtaining a Reader’s card.

27 Manx newspaper titles from 1792-1960. You can subscribe for 1 day, 7 days, 30 days or a year.  

For more sidelong glances at family history follow me: Ruth A Symes on Twitter 

and/or on my dedicated facebook page Search My Ancestry (Facebook)

How to find your ancestors in newspapers - family history - genealogy - A House Through Time - David Olusoga
New Zealand POWs arrive in Margate, Kent in April 1945. One reads a newspaper to pass the time spent queuing.
IWM Via Wikimedia Commons

Specialist Interest

1. The Stage Archive

Free to search. Pay to view

The Stage Directory was founded in 1880 as a monthly paper. It previewed, reviewed, monitored, reported and analysed performance across the UK entertainment industry. If you had ancestors who trod the boards. This might be the place to find them. You can pay for a subscription for 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months or 1 year.

2. The Tablet

Free to search and view.

The entire text of the Catholic newspaper, The Tablet, from 1840 to the present day. Includes content written by some Popes and other well-known Catholic writers.

3. Jewish Chronicle Archive

Free to search. Pay (by annual or newsagent subscription) to view

Access content from the world’s oldest Jewish newspaper from 1841 by clicking on a small icon on the top right of the home page. 

 4. Last Chance to Read

Free to view selected sections of pages. Pay (by Paypal) to view and download whole pages.

A searchable collection of thousands of pages of British and Irish newspapers and other publications (1710 – 1900). Includes some scarce newspapers (of which very few copies were originally printed) such as Wheeler’s Manchester Chronicle, Hue and Cry and Police Gazette, and The Craftsman or Say’s Weekly Journal.

Newspaper Indexes

Digitised newspapers can generally be searched online by keyword. However, where the text of the newspapers is not in itself online, there are sometimes ways of making a search of microfiches (or old newspapers themselves) easier. Some old newspapers have been helpfully indexed by archivists and librarians. You should take a look online at the library holdings in the town in which you are interested.

The detail included in these indexes varies. They might, for instance, simply include entries for the main topics covered by the newspaper, or they might include entries for every name mentioned. Some of these indexes have now been digitised and can be accessed directly online (The Cambrian Index Online mentioned above is one such). Other ‘guides to indexes’ appear online. An example is a list of newspaper indexes held by Bolton Library and Museum Service ( In this case, the indexes themselves (often still in card format) can only be accessed by visiting the Archive and Local Studies Search Room.   

If you have been inspired by David Olusoga's 'A House Through Time' and have an interesting story about an article that you have discovered in a newspaper,  please use the COMMENTS box below to tell us about it.

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A version of this article first appeared in Family Tree Magazine UK in February 2017.

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