How to Find Historical News Articles About your Family

Curious to find out more about your ancestors? Were your great-grandparents were famous (or infamous!) during their lifetime? Even if they had an ordinary life there is a good chance that they may have appeared in their local newspaper at some point.

 

Gathering Clues

If you are working with a specific family event, such as an award or presentation, then you may even have concrete dates to work with, and perhaps even useful keywords or an article title with which to start you on your search. 

 

Where do you start?

If you are unsure if any material found its way into print, finding your ancestor's obituary would be a good way to start. If you have a copy of the death certificate, then you will already know the date and place of death, and even the cause - this alone may have been newsworthy if it was anything other than a natural passing. Many newspapers have searchable online databases, although very few that deal exclusively in historical material are free, and you will need to pay to see them. A good starting point is your local library, who may already have subscriptions to these services, and where you may be able to do your research for free. If you think you may have a lot of information to look up, a subscription to Newspaper Archive will set you back around £50, and covers a variety of international publications. Most subscription services offer a free trial, so a little prior groundwork may even find you what you are looking for without spending any money. 

 

What’s in a surname?

Newspapers have been around for a good four centuries, so if you have an unusual surname in your family, or have been inclined to stay in a particular part of the country, a last name search on a newspaper database may even help you over a gap and enable you to work forwards to join up two sections of your family tree - since it would seem that it was almost impossible a few hundred years ago not to even accidentally commit some petty misdemeanour at some point, magistrates court or assizes records could be an entertaining addition to birth, marriage or death records. 

It's also worth bearing in mind that newsworthy items may not always appear in a search with what would seem to be the correct date. Many local papers and magazines run an "on this day" section, and you might find a mention of a party, local dramatic society play, or some other town event that your ancestor took an active part in 25, 50, or even 100 years previously! 

Even what would appear to be the most mundane minutiae of a life can make your ancestors seem much more real to you as people, and give you a greater connection to the everyday lives of the names in your family tree.