Newspapers and periodicals

All family historians rely on the primary documents of family history research – birth, marriage and death certificates; and census records – for the bare bones facts. However if you want some life and colour in your family’s story, then the Newspaper and Periodical collections at might just prove to be a great boon.

At you can search for your ancestor by name in the pages of a variety of British publications. The most significant is The Times, between 1788 and 1833, and there are also local newspapers available for various dates covering places such as Edinburgh, Liverpool, Bristol, Dublin and Staffordshire. The collection is being added to on an ongoing basis.


Not everyone has ancestors who were newsworthy because they were rich, powerful or famous – like Horatio Nelson, William Pitt or Benjamin Franklin. And they might not have been local heroes or villains, who saved drowning children or were documented in court for poaching or robbery. But you never know, and sometimes it pays to perform a few searches and see what turns up. It could be as insignificant as a report on a wedding between your ancestors, or which your ancestors attended. An ancestor may have been the proprietor of a business which you think is trivial today. However, many thousands of small businesses placed advertising in papers round the country, just like the Hull-based chemist JT Owbridge did on January 3, 1897, selling his lung tonic to the good people of Bristol in The Times and The Daily Mirror.

Newspapers in the 19th century tended to list lots of names and even letters to the editor frequently had plenty of co-signatories. But if you’re unable to find individuals in the reports, there are other ways of looking for relevant details. It might be worthwhile to search for something you know your ancestor was associated with. For instance, though only four pages in length in the 1780s, The Times reported in some detail on the country’s shipping, and on the activities of the Royal Navy. If your ancestor served on a particular vessel you might be able to find out much more about what they were up to at that time by searching for its name in the newspaper collection.

At a more local level, your forebear may have been a member of a particular church, school or business, or perhaps they were part of a sporting or musical group. If you know the name of any organisation or club they were involved in, try using that as a search phrase. On Friday 16 August, 1867, the Edinburgh Evening Courant reported in depth on conditions in the forests and moors around the city where people shot wild fowl. Was your forebear one of the sportsmen to bag 13 brace of grouse?


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