News­pa­pers re­veal the highs and lows in our an­ces­tors’ lives. With so many pa­pers now on­line, we have over 300 years of his­tory at our fin­ger­tips, says Laura Berry

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

How to make the most of the huge ar­ray of news­pa­pers that have been digi­tised and placed on­line

Old news­pa­pers are of­ten the source of our most trea­sured ge­nealog­i­cal finds. Where else could you learn about a drunken Brum­mie’s failed bid to win a fight with a don­key, or the es­capades of ‘aris­to­cratic or­gan grinder’ Vis­count Hin­ton, lam­basted for ser­e­nad­ing the land­lady of a West End pub?

It’s not just the Il­lus­trated Po­lice News that’s pep­pered with sur­real sto­ries from the grimy streets of Vic­to­rian Bri­tain – ev­ery­thing from grue­some mur­ders to mun­dane meet­ings were cov­ered by the lo­cal press.

It’s this at­ten­tion to de­tail that makes news­pa­pers such a valu­able re­source to­day. Whether your an­ces­tor was an MP or a char­woman, there’s the glim­mer of hope that their name might have made it into print.

Wil­liam Cax­ton is cred­ited with in­tro­duc­ing the print­ing press to Lon­don in the 15th cen­tury and his ap­pren­tice set up shop close to Fleet Street. How­ever, rig­or­ous li­cens­ing laws lim­ited the me­dia well into the 17th cen­tury. The Ox­ford Gazette was the first of­fi­cial jour­nal of record founded in 1665 at the height of the Great Plague, when Charles II and his courtiers sought refuge from the epi­demic by mov­ing to Ox­ford. Not wish­ing to touch Lon­don news­pa­pers for fear that they were in­fected, the Crown au­tho­rised the print­ing of a lo­cal pa­per. Es­tab­lished as a re­li­able out­let of govern­ment cor­re­spon­dence, The Ox­ford Gazette ini­tially an­nounced pub­lic ap­point­ments and naval news.

It was re­named the Lon­don Gazette in 1666 when the court re­turned to the cap­i­tal. Sis­ter ti­tles the Ed­in­burgh Gazette, Dublin Gazette and Belfast Gazette fol­lowed later. Their his­tor­i­cal ar­chives in­clude no­tices of bank­rupt­cies, pro­bate, changes of name, nat­u­ral­i­sa­tions, mil­i­tary despatches and ac­co­lades,

The Ox­ford Gazette was the first of­fi­cial jour­nal of record founded in 1665 at the height of the Great Plague

Lunchtime edi­tions of daily news­pa­pers are sold in Trafal­gar Square,

Lon­don, c1926

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