Articles on the History of Essex, Researching your Ancestors, and British History
Newspaper archives for family history research
British Newspaper Archive.
One of many newspapers archives in which you could find your ancestors
A look at newspaper archives and how they can help you research your ancestors.
Newspaper archives are now a very important source of information for researching your family tree. Many newspaper archives are now available online, some pay per view but many available free through your local library. Each of them accessible by keyword or text searching. This article looks at newspaper archives and their importance in discovering your Essex ancestors and the drawbacks of using newspapers.
British Library - The primary source for newspaper archives is the British Library Newspapers. The collection is the largest in the UK and consists of British and overseas newspapers, and popular magazines and periodicals. Many are now available through three online sources.
The British Newspaper Archive. Published and manged by DC Thomson Family History Limited. It starts in the 18th century with extensive coverage for the 19th and early 20th centuries. There is even some coverage up to 1999. Hundreds of pages of local and national titles are being added daily. By 2021 the aim is to provide 40 million pages. It is pay-to-view with various viewing packages available and the occasional free access offer. See our article on searching the British Newspaper Archive where an example search is shown.
Alternatively, Findmypast.co.uk which is owned by the same company offer access to the same database for subscribers to their site (subject to the subscription package purchased).
British Newspapers 1800 - 1900. An online collection of 49 local and national titles. This is available from Gale Publishing via universities and other subscribing institutions, or local libraries (Essex libraries included).
For newspaper titles currently not available online or from abroad , visit the British Library help page to find out how to view their collection.
Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition
The Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition (ncse) is a free, online edition of six nineteenth-century periodicals and newspapers. 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) and Publishers' Circular (1880-1890)
Welsh Newspapers - National Library of Wales
Welsh Newspapers Online from the National Library of Wales allows you to browse and search over 100 titles of pre-1910 newspapers - free of charge. Many of these papers contain English news as well.
Guardian and Observer newspapers
Guardian and Observer newspapers. 1821-2000 for the Guardian, and 1791-2000 for the Observer. Pay for 24 hours or longer. This can also be accessed for free through some UK county libraries. Speak to your local librarian.
Daily Mirror, Daily Express
Daily Mirror archive 1903 - 1980; Daily Express and other publications. Pay for 48 hrs or longer. This can also be accessed for free through some UK county libraries. Speak to your local librarian.
The Times digital archives 1785 - 1985 is operated by Thomson Gale databases and can be accessed through some UK county libraries and universities. Speak to your local librarian (Essex included).
If you are a member of Ancestry.co.uk, they have a searchable text version of the newspaper for the following years: The Times 1788-1833.
The Scotsman 1817 - 1950. Payment or free for Athens users.
The Irish Times archive 1851 - 2007. Payment.
Free access to the complete archive of the Spectator: 1828 - 2008.
The Stage Directory, later The Stage, magazine covering the entertainment and performing arts industry. Online archives 1880 to 2007. Perfect for researching your music hall or theatrical ancestors.
Index to The Builder and The Building News. These published descriptions and illustrations of buildings built during the period from 1842 to 1914. Very good for searching architects or the history of 19 and 20th century buildings.
Newspaperarchive.com is a largely American audience aimed newspaper archive, but with a surprising number of British titles in their archive. Subscription based.
Ancestry.co.uk also have some years of the Illustrated London News, the Penny Magazine, and several regional papers such as Liverpool, Bristol and Edinburgh.
County Record Offices, including the Essex Record Office, and County Libraries often hold extensive collections of newspapers in hard copy, microfilm or digitally. Enquire at the relevant local institution.
For newspapers at the Essex Record Office, see our article: Newspapers at the Essex Record Office.
Other titles such as the Telegraph, Daily Mail, the Burnley Collection (18th century titles) are currently only available to subscribing institutions such as universities. Thes archives are provided by a company called Gale Cengage Learning.
Problems with Newspapers
A glance at our present-day newspapers immediately reveals the problem with newspapers. They full of mistakes, misquotes, and do not contain all the facts. They are also written with a particular reader in mind and their attitudes. The same applies to 19th century newspapers, so one must bear this in mind when reading them.
Having pointed out the problems, it must be said, however, that newspapers are an excellent source of information for your family tree and they should be included in your research.
More articles on the History of Essex, Researching your Ancestors, and British History
Find your Ancestors in the Newspapers
Newspaper archives are now a very important source of information for researching your family tree.
Try our example search to help you discover if your ancestors are in the British Newspaper Archive.
Help me find my ancestors - example search
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Looking for pictures to add to your family tree album?
Ebay is a good source of old images of Essex towns and villages. If you're looking for pictures to add to your family tree album, then try one of the auctions, or there are several 'Buy It Now' shops offering postcards which have been touched up and improved - so if you're unsure about bidding, try these.
Link below already formatted for Essex and Postcards.
Essex Postcards on Ebay
The sheer number of digitised newspaper resources out there is astonishing. In a period of not much more than ten years ago when the first newspaper digitisation project got underway, there are now hundreds of millions of pages accessible online. Here's a guide to ten of the best of them (but not the ten 'best' of course), first in a series of 'top ten' guides to news research sources we'll be publishing over the next few weeks.
British Newspaper Archive (£)
The BNA is a partnership between the British Library and DC Thomson Family History to publish 40 million pages from British newspapers over a ten year period (deadline 2020). Built upon an earlier newspaper digitisation project between the Library and JISC, there are currently just under 7.5 million pages available from around 250 British newspaper titles, dating from 1710 to 1954. The focus is on regionals as opposed to nationals, and titles which have not been digitised and made commercially available elsewhere. So you won't find The Times or the Daily Mirror, but you will find the West Kent Guardian, the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, the Bristol Mercury and the Dundee Courier. 19th century nationals represented include The Graphic and the Morning Post. It's a subscription site, with exemplary searching and filtering tools and helpful guides.
This is a newspaper digitisation programme sponsored jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress as part of the National Digital Newspaper Program. It covers newspapers published 1860-1922 for the following states: Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington. Papers available include The San Francisco Call, The New York Sun, The Washington Times, The Colored American, and The New York Evening Times. Currently there are some 7.2 million pages from 1,270 titles.
Gallica is the digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Established in 1997, today it contains nearly 3 million digital documents - books, manuscripts, maps, images, sound recordings and newspapers. The library has 1.3 million newspaper and periodical pages to date, including Le Figaro and L’Humanité, with new content being aded all the time. The content is all French, of course (but there are English-language searching tools), and is a mixture of free and paid-for content. You can search by title, author, text, date, language, broad subject, document type and access type (i.e. free versus paid-for content), and there are useful filtering tools.
The American site NewspaperARCHIVE calls itself the world's largest newspaper archive, and in online terms that may be the case. It boasts over 130 million pages (newspaper and periodicals) dating from 1607 to the present day, with papers from all American states and eleven other countries, including the UK (some 800 titles). It claims to be adding 80,000 images per day, or 2.5 million per month, such is the relentless demand from the geneaology market, to which the site is strongly directed. There are various subscription offers available, and you can have a 3-day trial of the full database for $1.95.
A plain but helpful online resource of digitised historic newspapers from Singapore and Malaya. The site allows you to search the National Library of Singapore's digital archive of papers published between 1831 and 2009 and includes The Straits Times 1845-1989. You can also find information about the National Library of Singapore’s microfilmed newspapers. All images are watermarked and the image and OCR quality are variable, but none of it is illegible. The advanced search option allows you to narrow down researches by date, newspaper (there are 26 on offer ranging 1836-2006) and content type (article, advertisement, letters etc.). The newspaper titles are in English, Chinese or Malay. Only the historical titles can be viewed online, but do note that the British Library holds most of the digitised titles on microfilm for access in our reading room.
Nineteenth Century Serials Edition (ncse)
King's College's the Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition is a free, online edition of six nineteenth-century periodicals and newspapers. It includes full runs of the first five titles, and a decade only of the Publishers' Circular. Titles are represented as completely as possible, including multiple editions, advertisements, wrappers, and supplements where these could be found. Titles are:
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), and Publishers' Circular (1880-1890). All six journals are segmented to article level, and can be downloaded freely.
This excellent site from the National Library of New Zealand contains over three million freely-available pages from 83 digitised New Zealand newspapers and periodicals covering the period 1839 to 1945. The search and presentation tools are a model of their kind. Australian and New Zealand newspapers from this period carried a great deal of British news, so this and the Trove site below are great resources for searching British subjects as well as Australasian.
Trove is a discovery tool for information on Australia and Australians. It is the digital library par excellence. The newspaper section of the site presents the results of the on-going Australian Newspapers Digitisation Program: to date there are 12.3 million pages covering a range of titles from every state and territory, from the earliest newspaper published in Australia in 1803 through to the mid 1950s. The remainder of Trove covers books, journals, pictures, photographs, films, music, sound, manuscripts, maps and archived websites, its cross-searching making it the model example of a research resource that does not discriminate between the different media.
This commercial site provides text searchable access to full page facsimiles of over 2 million pages from some of the UK’s biggest selling popular newspapers of the 20th and 21st centuries. The archive is still being built up but already complete are the Daily Mirror 1903 to date, Sunday Express May 2000 to date, the Daily Star May 2000 to date, the Star Sunday September 2002 to date and The Daily Express 1900 to date. It is easy to use, with search bringing up every relevant page as a thumbnail. Searching is free (one you register); if you subscribe you can view, download and print pages at full size.
Welsh Newspapers Online
Welsh Newspapers Online is a free online resource from the National Library of Wales which currently lets you search and access over 630,000 pages or 6.8 million articles from nearly 100 newspaper publications from years 1804 to 1919. It is easy to use, with snippets of text appearing as search results, linking to the article image and the OCR text alongside it, a particularly welcome feature as it lets the researcher gain a clearer picture of the accuracy of their searches.
We provide a list of all the many full text, word-searchable electronic newspaper resources (free and commercial) to which we provide onsite access in the British Library reading rooms, with descriptions of each of the services. They include all of the above (with the exception of NewspaperARCHIVE).