English newspapers began in 1620. At first content was limited to foreign news. A tax on each printed sheet of paper limited the number of pages and the amount of information now useful to family historians. The first successful newspaper was the London Gazette, a biweekly government list of bankruptcies, naturalizations, official acts, and public notices. It began in 1665/6 and still continues today.
In 1690 the first local newspaper began in Worcester. The content was still very limited because of taxes, but useful items published from 1690 to 1800 include the following:
- Ads with physical descriptions of runaway apprentices, giving the apprentices’ names, addresses, and occupations and the names of their fathers and masters
- Ads to locate runaway or kidnaped children, military deserters (with physical description, previous occupation, age, and place of birth), and missing heirs or family members
- Marriage, engagement, and death notices (since 1730) [But do bear in mind only a very small percentage of Marriages and Deaths were reported due to the limited physical size of the newspaper]
Local newspapers did not flourish until the paper tax was lowered in 1836. When the tax was abolished in 1855 hundreds of newspapers started. In the 19th century, other useful information found in local newspapers includes:
- Birth announcements (usually the father’s name only).
- Reports of court cases (often in detail).
- Gun licenses granted (at quarter sessions).
- Details of inquests, divorces, funerals, and marriages including lists of those attending (from the late 1800s).
The following work may help you decide if newspapers will contain information you need:
- Nicholson, Cregoe D. P. The Genealogical Value of Early English Newspapers. London, England: C.D.P. Nicholson, 1934. (FHL film 1468841 item 7; fiche 6026113.)
From 1731 to 1864 Gentlemen’s Magazine published notices of births, deaths, marriages, key promotions, and appointments (FHL book 942 B2g; films 844665–710). These notices have been indexed in:
- College of Arms, comp. Gentlemen’s Magazine Index. Bound unpublished manuscript. N.p., 1958–60. (FHL 942 B2g Index; films 599738–761; fiche 6026701.)
The London Times published notices of deaths, marriages, and births of prominent families. Abstracts with semiannual indexes from 1785 to 1933 have been prepared in Abstracts of Birth, Marriage, and Death Announcements, a manuscript on film at the Family History Library, listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
Its worth bearing in mind that Regional Newspapers may be a much better source for your ancestors than National Newspapers (the Gibson Guide listed below is an invaluable resource to track local holdings)
ENGLAND, LONDON - NEWSPAPERS - INDEXES
For an index to key topics, events, deaths notices, and obituaries appearing in The London Times from 1790 to 1901, see:
Palmer, S. Palmer’s Index to the Times Newspaper. Reprint. Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint, 1965–1978. (FHL book 942.1/L1 B32pa.)
Increasingly Digitalisation is opening up access to "trapped data" in newspapers for example :
Thomson-Gale The Times Online for example adds significantly to Palmer's Index
British Library Burney Collection of 18th Newspapers
British Library Digitalisation of 19th Century Newspapers
The Scotman, The Guardian etc are also available on a Pay for View Basis
Copies of British newspapers are at many repositories and libraries. The most complete collection is in the Newspaper Library section of the British Library (see the "Archives and Libraries" section of this outline for the address).
The following work lists holdings by town of publication:
Catalogue of the British Newspaper Library. Eight Volumes. London, England: British Museum Publications, 1975. (FHL book Q 942 A5cn.)
Other lists of holdings of British newspapers include:
Bibliography of British Newspapers. London, England: The Library Association, 1975–. (FHL book 942 B33b.) This bibliography is an ongoing series. It lists newspapers by county and gives background information on the papers.
Crane, R. S., and F. B. Kaye. A Census of British Newspapers and Periodicals, 1620–1800. Second Edition. London, England: Holland Press, 1966. (FHL book 942 B3ce.) This lists holdings at major U.S. libraries.
Gibson, J. S. W. Local Newspapers, 1750–1920. Revised Edition. Birmingham, England: Federation of Family History Societies Publications, Limited, 1987. (FHL book 942 B33g.) This book lists holdings in English repositories, arranged by county and city.
The Family History Library has a few English newspapers listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - NEWSPAPERS
The Family History Library usually does not collect newspapers. However, the library does collect indexes and abstracts of genealogical information from newspapers. Look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
GREAT BRITAIN - NEWSPAPERS
ENGLAND - NEWSPAPERS
ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - NEWSPAPERS