England Finding Newspapers (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Education,Health and Contemporary Documents  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


Finding Newspapers[edit | edit source]

All the major national collections of newspapers and unpublished material on the history of the press are referred to in The National Archives research guide D123. Researchers should note that the British Library Newspaper Collection at Colindale in north-west London is the major copyright collection with material from 1620 right up to the present date. They will answer written or email enquiries on individual titles.

Collins has written a brief guide to its contents and how to use it in person. The Bodleian Library in Oxford has an excellent collection of English newspapers 1620-1800. Check the local paper and surrounding local ones, as well as county or national papers if your event would have warranted such attention.

Finding What Newspapers Exist[edit | edit source]

Gurnett surveyed the existing indexes in 1983, as did Chapman in 1996. The most comprehensive are:

  • Benn’s Newspaper Press Directory from 1846; includes current newspapers in each issue. FamilySearch Catalog has only 1949, 1957, 1971 issues.
  • Willing’s Press Guide by a series of publishers from 1874; includes current plus recently discontinued newspapers. FamilySearch Catalog has 1970, 1971, 1985, 1986 issues.
  • Sell’s Directory of the World Press from 1881.
  • The British Museum’s Tercentenary Handlist of English and Welsh Newspapers, Magazines and Reviews 1620-1920. This is not a complete list of British newspapers but only an inventory of the British Library (BL) holdings as of 1920, even in the 1966 reprint. It is arranged chronologically and indexed by title not by place.
  • A census of British newspapers and periodicals, 1620-1800 by Crane and Kaye (FHL book 942 B3ce).

Two publications which are specifically geared for the family historian and arrange the newspapers under counties or towns are:

  • West’s Town Records selective list covering 1690-1981.
  • Gibson, Langston and Smith’s more comprehensive Local Newspapers 1750-1920, a good condensed list of holdings in English and Welsh archives, but note that they do not list newspapers that lasted less than four years, nor do they detail any gaps in runs.

Online listings are proliferating but some are not comprehensive; at present the book-form listings have more authority (Taylor).

Libraries and archives have listings of all newspapers published within their area. They often have copies of most of them, and local collections may be more extensive than those held by the British Library. Newspapers may be on microfilm and perhaps indexed by name, place, trade and event – a huge time-saver.

Newsplan[edit | edit source]

In 1986 a series of regional surveys of the surviving newspapers and their condition was commenced. This resulted in systematic efforts to preserve and microfilm those in danger, and possibilities for more widespread distribution on microfilm. Many archives can now fill the gaps in their local collections. Access the listings of newspapers and locations at British Library Newsplan.

Newspaper Indexes[edit | edit source]

After identifying the relevant newspaper(s) the next step is to find if some kind of index is available for the time period in which you are interested. Neither Harrison nor Gurnett could have foretold digitisation and optical character recognition (OCR), so the earlier prognostications on indexing were gloomy.

Many libraries have indexed cuttings files and indexes of BMD announcements, obituaries, and/or criminal court records so always ask what is available. Some indexes are mentioned by Chapman, and several can be found in Gibson and Hampson and Gibson, Langston and Smith. County archives and other institutions are responding to the need for indexes, digitisation and search capabilities for their early newspapers.

Only two English newspapers publish indexes themselves – The Financial Times and The Times, for which there are different indexes:

  • 1785-1790, the first five years of the paper’s existence has been indexed by The Times staff as part of The Official Index (see below).
  • Palmer’s Index to The Times 1790-1941 is a curious work, not at all easy to use owing to vagueness and inconsistency of index subjects. The original Palmer’s Index 1790-1901 was filmed by the GSU but is no longer available, except for a non-circulating fiche 6344779 index to divorces. A new version is now available for 1790-1905 on CD-ROM (Gurnett 1997) and is searchable but it is an index to the index, not the newspaper, so you still have to get used to the weird subject headings even though searching is much faster. An updated version 1790-1870 is online through Historical Documents.
  • The Official Index to The Times began in 1906 and continues to date.
  • The Society of Genealogists has a number of BMD and obituary cuttings from The Times covering 1875-1894, and a death index 1894-1931. They also have an unindexed collection of BMDs from the Daily Telegraph 1938-1976.

A variety of indexes are available at the Family History Library including:

  • Index register to next of kin, heirs at law, legatees etc: index to advertisements for claimants to vast sums of money and property in Great Britain and the colonies, from 1698, on fiche 6035476 (2).
  • Bromley Journal and West Kent Herald: births, deaths and marriages index 1869-1885 on fiche 6359739 (6).

The last two indexes do not circulate to FamilySearch Centers but can be accessed via the Request for Photocopies form.

An index to The Surrey Advertiser is a volunteer project and so far covers 1864-1867 comprehensively . A few items from 1867 include a Guildford pawnbroker forging a character [reference], the robbery of the Earl of Dalhousie in a railway carriage, furious driving in Guildford, Miss Dalton at the Tillingbourne Flower Show, and the Dorking Amateur Theatricals. Items reported from further afield included two children attacked by a mad dog in Bethnal Green, and a dreadful colliery explosion in the Aberdare Valley.

Finding the Actual Newspapers[edit | edit source]

Government Gazettes were the newspapers produced by the government of each British colony or dominion for most of the 19th and 20th centuries. There are frequent references to named people, usually settlers rather than natives, and may include lists of immigrants and emigrants, voters rolls, and appointments to government, police and military positions. The usual civil notices of deaths and estates, divorce, insolvency, crime and legal disputes will also be present. The British Library Newspaper Library at Colindale has extensive holdings shown in their catalogue.

Some of these are available on microfilm elsewhere, for example the British New Guinea Government Gazette Vol. 1 (1888) - Vol. 19 (1906) is on GSU film 1342568, and the New Zealand Government Gazette, 1852-1860 on 0287526. Other papers are online, for example some for Bristol, Liverpool, London and Stoke-on-Trent are at Newspaper Archive

The FHL has just three issues of The London Gazette. between 1845 and 1855 on GSU film 0517647, and a nice run of theGloucester journal 1731-1802 on 16 films starting at 0431208.

When planning to visit an archive to view periodicals always consult the archivist prior to your visit to ensure that they have the date you require in their collections, and that it will be available when you visit.

FamilySearch Catalog[edit | edit source]

There are very few microformed newspapers and finding aids in the FHL; what is there can be found under COUNTRY, COUNTY and TOWN listings under the heading NEWSPAPERS and its subheadings: 19TH CENTURY; BIBLIOGRAPHY; DIRECTORIES; GENEALOGY; HANDBOOKS, MANUALS ETC; HISTORY; HISTORY-BIBLIOGRAPHY; HISTORY-PERIODICALS; INDEXES; INVENTORIES, REGISTERS, CATALOGS; and TAXATION; also under OBITUARIES heading. Some examples of what is available have been mentioned above.

Other Helps[edit | edit source]

Other useful booklets about newspapers for family historians are those by Chapman and McLaughlin. Online newspaper resources were reviewed in 2002 by Cavell, and Reid (2003) comments on the rapid developments in this area and what a good online database should be able to do with optical character recognition (OCR) techniques.


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Education,Health and Contemporary Documents offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.