Useful things, newspapers

Quite a bit of the information I’ve collected about my relatives – and a lot of the more interesting facts – has come from old newspapers. There was a time when you would have to go and sit in some building in north London and wait for them to be brought to you on microfilm, before endlessly reeling (sometimes literally) through miles of film to find something relevant to your research.

How much easier things are now that the internet is filling out a bit. There are several very easy-to-use, searchable resources for looking up old newspaper archives, where a keyword search can take you to the appropriate story in seconds, rather than hours as in the olden days.

For me, the National Library of Australia’s resource at has proved invaluable in tracking down information about my Australian relatives: I could fill a small book with details of my great grandfather Archibald‘s comings and goings on the coasting passenger boats that plied between Brisbane, Rockhampton and points north of there.

The NLA site has the great advantage of being freely accessible. Many others are not, but some – such as the Gale Group’s database of pre-1900 British newspapers – can be accessed through local library memberships. Some that used to be freely accessible, such as The Scotsman’s archive, are now subscription services.

Whether you have to pay or not, however, the archived newspapers are a goldmine of genealogical information. In a few idle moments, for instance, I found this:


It’s a record of the marriage, in 1858, of my mother’s great grandparents. A search for Joseph Riley in Sheffield turned it up within a few hits. And the information it delivers leads on to other discoveries. Sgt Maj Cunningham is not hard to trace – he served with the 9th Dragoons, was a Chelsea Pensioner, and was a witness in a scandalous theft during the 1860s. (Watch this site for the sordid details, which I’ll put up in due course.)

It’s nice to think of the bride’s proud father (or whoever it was) running down to the newspaper office to get this notice into the next day’s paper. He thought only his friends would see it. He never suspected the words he spent a farthing or two on publishing would be read just as avidly a century and a half later. Value for money, or what?

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