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Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Beyond the Internet:: Offline Newspapers - A Window on the World.

Cassmob at Family History Across the Seas, in her series "Beyond the Internet" aims to highlight some of the sources for family stories beyond our computer screens. The latest theme focuses on Newspapers.

Old newspapers I have always found fascinating. The accounts enable us to "experience" events as they were recorded in the press of the time. It is not textbook history in the conventional manner but is full of vigour on many varied aspects of the lives of ordinary people. Have a look at my "Stop Press" series for some of the quirky reports that I have come across.

My local archive centre at the Heritage Hub, Hawick in the Scottish Borders promotes itself primarily on the value of its unique archive sources that are not available anywhere else. These help family historians go beyond the standard resources of census returns, old parish records, monumental inscriptions etc.many of which can be accessed online.
The newspapers I have accessed on microfilm have not been indexed , so it it vital to be exact as possible with the date of an event i.e. at least month and year, or else you are in for an eye-breaking lengthy on-screen trawl to find what you are looking for.

How have newspapes helped my family history? I have found:
  • A 1905 account of the funeral of my great grandfther James Danson (a local joiner) which included a list of chief mourners.
  • A poignant account of the death of my great uncle George Danson at the Battle of the Sommr in 1916.

  • Lenghy and colourful account of the weddings in the 1920's of my great aunt Jennie Danson and my mother's cousin Annie Danson - they are worth reading just for the journalistic "over the top" style in the description of the dresses - with such phrases as "gowned in delphuinium blue georgette" and "Her hat was of georgette to tone with uneven pointed dropping brim, having an eye veil of silver lace and floral mount!

    Do have a look at the links as they are great fun to read. .

For family historians, inevitably newspapers seem more concerned with prominent people. landed gentry and profesional men. Early notices of births were often short merely stating “On the 1st inst. a son to……" – with the mother’s name not always given.

But even if you are unsuccessful in finding specific details on your own family, newspapers are an indispensable tool in providing you with that essential background material that can so enliven your family story.

What was happening during the lifetime of your ancestors?
  • You should find reports of military campaigns abroad, court cases, politics, royal visits, accidents (often with graphic descriptions), health, farming, trade, church activities, and  transport.  
  • Advertisements, generally on the front page for maximum impact, offer a valuable source of information on all aspects of life. In “The Kelso Mail” of January 1804 ”, the main advert informed readers of the signals that would be made across the county on the “enemy’s [Napoleonic] fleet appearing off the coast."
  • Regular features throughout the year featured railway timetables, market prices, local shipping agents offering passages to America, Canada, South Africa, India, Singapore and Australia, , auction sales notices with lengthy details of estates and their contents on the market, bankruptcies, tradesmen, events such as balls and talks, and church activities plus new arrivals at shops from the last novel by Charles Dickens to India rubber boots.
  • The classified adverts revealed households seeking housekeepers, cooks, parlourmaids, scullery maids, between maids, laundry maids But life was changing in 1916, with an advert for a "Lady Motor Driver" and a "Lady Clerk - not under 30, must be a first class typist and shorthand writer and experienced in filing and indexing". Also seeking work was a "Gentlewoman, excellent cleaner of plate....speaks French and Italian, with own portable Corona typewriter".
  • You can find out through the adverts what your ancestors were eating, what was Christmas like in war-time, what was the well dressed lady wearing?
  • One article I came across advised on "The Home Treatment of Alcoholic Excess and the Drug Habit"- with no interference with social, business or other duties". Still topical today!

    Items from "The Times: 16th September 1916

Items from "The Sunday Chronicle" 26th September 1937.

So I am pleased to promote local archive centres in this way to show there is genealogical life well beyond the Internet. It is records such as these which can contribute so much to us discovering the stories of our ancestors.

So start browsing the newspapers.
You may be surprised at what you uncover.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for joining in Susan. Newspapers really are a "real life" insight into our family's lives all those years ago. I love that you highlighted the advertisements as well as your personal discoveries. I've enjoyed reading your "Stop Press" posts over the year.


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