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, occupations and the names of their fathers and masters
- Ads to locate runaway or kidnapped 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. The British Library in London has made many county newspapers available online with an every name index. The history is recorded as it happened. You may think that only more prominent people would be mention in the newspapers.
- births, deaths, and marriages was for the more prominent people in the area. Obituaries for those that lived near 100 years old
- court cases that mentions witnesses and detailed account of the event
- Quarter Session reports on those that broke the law or were disorderly
- Quarter Session reports for business licenses, gun licenses, etc.
- Sporting Events with names of those participating
- Coroner inquests; sudden death was a reason for an inquest, their more common than one might think; many go into detail about what led up to the death. Accidents recorded in detail
- Special events in a parish or area of a county
- National News and World News
- Accounts of battles during war time
Now with an every name index it is possible to determine whether your ancestor is recorded in the newspaper for any number of reasons. To use this valuable resource it must be determined if there is an indexed newspaper for the area and time period that is desired. Not every area is coved in this collection. It covers papers from 1800 to 1900.
If a newspaper is not online then it is necessary search newspapers on microfilm and determine if there are paper indexes. Microfilmed newspapers can be found in County Record Offices and the British Newspaper Library.
The following works may help you decide if newspapers contain the information you need:
- Nicholson, Cregoe D. P. The Genealogical Value of Early English Newspapers. London, England: C.D.P. Nicholson, 1934. (Family History Library film 1468841 item 7; fiche 6026113.)
From 1731 to 1864 Gentlemen’s Magazine published notices of births, deaths, marriages, key promotions, and appointments (Family History Library 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. (Family History Library 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:
It's 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. (Family History Library 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 Scotsman, The Guardian etc are also available on a Pay per 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. (Family History Library book Q 942 A5cn.)
Other lists of holdings of British newspapers include:
Bibliography of British Newspapers. London, England: The Library Association, 1975–. (Family History Library 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. (Family History Library 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. (Family History Library 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