Using Newspapers

Time Travel Guides Resources for local and family history

Using Newspapers for Local and Family History Research

Time Travel Guides: Resources for Local and Family History » Using Newspapers

Newspapers contain plenty of information about local history and they can often be helpful for genealogy too. Local papers are usually the best sources as they cover smaller scale stories and often contain family announcements.

How to Access

Libraries and archives generally hold paper copies of old newspapers, especially for their local area. You may be able to order copies or see these in person if you can visit.

Many national and local newspapers have been digitised, but you will usually need to pay to see them online. Ancestry has made some newspapers available for subscribers, but the biggest online collection is available at the British Newspaper Archive. You can access the BNA through a FindMyPast Pro subscription (it is not included in their other subscription levels) or take out a subscription just for the newspaper archive.

What Material is Available?

Old newspapers can provide many different kinds of information for local or family history research. In addition to coverage of significant events, newspapers can include adverts for businesses and property sales, birth, marriage, and death announcements, details of voters in local elections, outcomes of court cases, and descriptions of meetings held by clubs or societies. Local papers often included very detailed accounts, so you might find quotations from court cases or a list of songs performed at a charity event.

If the paper has been digitised, there may be searchable transcripts and images of the original newspapers online. The British Newspaper Archive has a large collection of papers from across the UK.

When to Use Newspapers

Newspapers provide contemporary accounts of significant events. Some only cover the biggest national news, but local papers cover a wider range of stories relating to their communities. If you’re researching a newsworthy event, there is likely to be some useful information in the newspapers. However, it can also be worthwhile checking for the names of people, properties, or businesses in their local papers as you may come across interesting details in adverts, family announcements, or other content.

Tips on Using Newspapers

1. Searching Newspaper Transcripts

Newspaper transcripts have usually been produced by OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software, so they can be inaccurate, especially with older documents or unusual fonts. When you search through old newspapers on a site like the British Newspaper Archive, you will actually be searching in the transcribed versions. You may need to try several different approaches to find the material you need if any of the key words have been mistranscribed. You should also check the actual images of the newspaper to ensure you have the correct information, rather than relying on the transcribed versions.

2. Checking Publication Dates

Recording the date when a news story was published can help you to find the article again in the future, but it can also be helpful for finding related coverage. Newspapers often refer to stories that were “in our last edition” or that were published “last Tuesday”. Knowing the date of the current article can help you to identify these older stories and to keep them all in order.

If you are downloading images from a website like the British Newspaper Archive then it is also a good idea to note where on the page the article is located. The downloaded images will often show the whole page and it can be difficult to find the parts you’re interested in, especially if they’re very small or if you’re returning to the source after some time. You can also use picture editing software to crop the image to the article you’re interested in.

3. Looking for Syndicated Stories

The easiest way to find relevant articles is to look in a local paper, but sometimes the newspaper you need isn’t available online. However, many local papers reprinted stories from other areas, especially if they were particularly scandalous or unusual. Even if the local newspaper has not been digitised, it can still be worth searching for stories online as they may have also appeared in other papers that are available. You might see the same story appearing multiple times in your search results in different publications.