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Tracing Ancestry - Through Newspapers And Magazines

The rise of written records heralded a gradual erosion of oral traditions.

Many of our ancestors appeared in newspapers and magazines, in birth, marriage and death announcements, advertising their services as tradesmen or professionals, as parties in lawsuits, attending public meetings, suing for damage, being tried as criminals and in a host of entirely unexpected ways, which can add amazing details to family histories.

The Best-Known Newspapers

Newspapers and periodicals grew out of newsbooks, especially Mercunius Britannicus and Mercurius Aulicus, which the Parliamentarians and Cavaliers produced respectively to spread their propaganda during the Civil War. They include the most marvellously quirky woodcuts of characters and events and can best be examined in the pamphlets section of the British Library.

The Oxford Gazette, later to become the London Gazette, was founded in 1665, printing official announcements, from bankruptcies, granting of honours and medals, changes of name, naturalisations and Official appointments in government, church and the armed forces.

The first daily newspaper was the Daily Courant, initially published in 1702. Many other titles appeared during the 18th century, fuelled in no small part by the growth of coffeehouses. The Gentleman s Magazine was published monthly from 1731 to 1868, with announcements of birth, marriage and death of members of the middle and upper classes (and those aspiring to be so). It also included information on the lower classes, noting things like exceptional longevity, and executions.

Like the London Gazette, it also included information such as bankruptcy and appointments, essays, prices of commodities, and news items. The Illustrated London News was published from 1847 and contains many obituaries, often with engraved illustrations.

The best-known newspaper of all, The Times, started life in 1785 as the Daily Universal Register. From the 19th century onwards, it provides a wonderful source of birth, marriage and death announcements for middle and upper-class families, together with much valuable information on bankruptcies, business partnerships, trials and events. Coming closer to the present are other broadsheets and a host of local newspapers.

Local papers can date from the 18th century (the earliest was the Norwich Post, founded in 1701) but can be disappointing because of their focus on national news. It is only from the mid-19th century that they really began to focus on local news and people, such as inquests, obituary notices and detailed accounts of the funerals of the more important inhabitants. For the 20th century, local newspapers can include photographs of ancestors, especially their wedding photographs, often accompanied by detailed accounts of who gave which wedding presents.

Scottish And Irish Newspapers

Scottish newspapers appeared at the same time as English ones with the Edinburgh Evening Courant published thrice-weekly from 1718, followed by the Glasgow Journal in 1741 and Aberdeen Journal in 1748. The first daily paper was the Conservative, established in 1837. The equivalent of the Gentleman's Magazine was the Edinburgh Magazine, founded in 1739 and renamed the Scots Magazine in 1817, which is indexed annually for births, deaths and marriages.

Irish newspapers started appearing in the 17th century, first in Dublin and Belfast (though copies for the latter apparently do not survive before 1737) and then spreading to towns and cities such as Limerick and Waterford in the early 18th century.

Written By:
  1. Navin Kumar Jaggi
  2. Gurmeet Singh Jaggi

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