FOCUS ON: NEWSPAPERS
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
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,