November 19, 2021
Genealogists love newspapers. They’re often the only way that we can find out more about our ancestors’ lives. We all love obituaries, wedding announcements, and articles detailing other noteworthy events. The widespread digitization of newspapers has made them easily searchable and widely available through a number of newspaper-specific websites.
American newspapers are often one of the first sources genealogists turn to when researching a new family line. Once we’ve followed that family line “across the pond” to Europe many of us forget that foreign newspapers are also available.
During the last few months I’ve been researching several family lines located in the former British Empire countries of England, New Zealand and Australia. All three have great newspaper projects that make finding articles easy. These newspapers are especially convenient for Americans to use since they’re all in English. No Google Translate necessary. Australia and New Zealand’s newspaper projects are free, while England’s newspapers require a subscription.
Australia’s newspaper website is called Trove (https://trove.nla.gov.au/ ). Trove contains digitized newspapers from all parts of Australia, beginning in the early 1800s. As is typical in most countries, the larger city newspapers, such as those from Sydney, probably won’t have obituaries or other articles about average folks. That is, unless those average folks were involved in a crime or court case. Smaller town newspapers did carry more folksy items about local people.
New Zealand’s digital newspaper archive is called Papers Past (https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/ ). Smaller, local newspapers will tend to have more articles about average folks than the newspapers from Auckland or Wellington.
I have used both Trove and Papers Past fairly extensively, and both are good resources. I’ve found everything from reports of an ancestor getting into a brawl at a pub in Sydney to lists of passengers arriving in Lyttleton on the South Island of New Zealand. The coverage seems to be better from the later 1800s forward. As is the case in the U.S., the earlier eras will have fewer articles featuring women.
The British Isles newspapers are available on two large pay-for-view websites: The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/ ) and Find My Past (https://search.findmypast.com/search/british-newspapers ). The British Newspaper Archive newspapers are published and managed by Find My Past, so it’s not necessary to have a subscription to both websites. Find My Past is a large genealogical website that contains many genealogical records. British newspapers are just one category on their website. The British Newspaper Archive focuses solely on newspapers. It can be searched for free. If you find something of interest, it does cost to look at the full article.
I have searched for ancestors from various parts of England and have found that my relatives before about 1900 seldom appear. They were nearly all lower class agricultural or factory workers. After 1900, I have found a number of articles about my family. One of my favorites has been a series of wedding announcement articles in the local Reading newspapers. The articles begin with a brief description of the wedding and the participants. They then continue with a complete list of the people who attended the wedding and exactly what each gave as a gift to the happy couple. Talk about FAN clubs! It’s especially interesting to see what a typical young couple received as gifts in the early 20th century. Everything from toasting forks to coffee percolators.
If your ancestors were in the British Isles, Australia or New Zealand in the mid-nineteenth century or later, chances are you’ll find articles about them. Definitely worth checking out!
Researcher/Director at Large