The British Newsletter Archives – A Rich Documentary Resource

By: Carolyn L. Barkley

We should never underestimate the ability of newspapers to add detail to our research or, perhaps, loosen the mortar in a research brick wall.

I recently had a critical breakthrough after forty years of searching – with no success – for information about the family of my great-great-grandmother (Kate Dodd, née Duncan) in Scotland and England. The mortar began to crumble because of a newspaper notice that I never would have found except for the inclusion of the Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican in the historical newspaper collections available at Genealogy Bank. At the end of a long evening of searching all entries in the Republican pertaining to my Duncan family, the very last entry (Saturday 23 November 1861, page 3) yielded the following: “Near Rangoon, East Indies (accidentally drowned,) August 13th , Edward Duncan, 23, son of George Duncan of this city, and brother of Capt. F. Duncan, commander of the Lord William Bentige [sic] in her majesty’s service, Rangoon, Burmah [sic], and of George H. Duncan, private in the 10th Massachusetts volunteers.” I was speechless! Previous research had documented that Kate’s father was named George, and that she had a brother named George H. I knew that the latter was indeed a private in the 10th Massachusetts Infantry during the Civil War. Without that final line in the death notice, I would not have been able to tie this event conclusively to the family. More importantly, however, I had never ever heard of two additional brothers, at least one, if not both, older than Kate. Similarly, the notice suggests that neither brother had emigrated to New Haven, Connecticut, with Kate, her father, step-mother, and brother in the early 1850s. The fact that this notice appeared in the Springfield paper, where the family had relocated, however, suggested continued contact between the family then in the United States and the two brothers who apparently were left behind.

Almost simultaneously with this discovery, I read a Facebook post about the British Newspaper Archives, a product of brightsolid, the folks who brought you Findmypast among other genealogical online products. This source seemed to offer a perfect opportunity to continue my search for Edward Duncan, his brother, F. (Francis?, Frederick?), and perhaps the latter’s ship, the Lord William Bentinck. To be honest, I have made little headway, mostly due to limited time, and so cannot provide any additional information (yet), but what I can do is share information about the British Newspaper Archives, a wonderful resource for anyone conducting research in the British Isles.

British Newspaper Archives is a collaborative project undertaken by brightsolid and the British Library. According to a press release dated 24 May 2010, the project, over a ten-year period, will make up to 40,000,000 digitized newspaper pages available to users.1 The release further stated that “Digitised material will include extensive coverage of local, regional and national press across three and a half centuries. It will focus on specific geographic areas, along with periods such as the census years between 1841 and 1911. Additional categories will be developed looking at key events and themes, such as the Crimean War, the Boer War and the suffragette movement. The aim will be to build a ‘critical mass’ of material for researchers – particularly in the fields of family history and genealogy.”1 The website’s homepage indicates that the current total of new pages is 6,389,174 (as of 5 February 2013), with thousands scanned and added every day.

Anyone can search on the site at no cost after a free registration. However, if you wish to view pages of interest, you must purchase either a subscription or a credit package. Black and white newspaper page images over 107 years old cost five credits each; color images over 107 years old cost ten credits each; and images less than 107 years old cost fifteen credits. The free registration includes fifteen free credits. Credit packages for purchase include a two-day package with 500 credits for £6.95; a seven-day package with 600 credits for £9.95; and a thirty-day package with 3,000 credits for £29.95. If you will be searching these newspapers on a frequent basis, you may want to consider the annual subscription with unlimited credits at £79.95.

A list of newspaper titles included in the collection is available and is preceded by a list of issues added within the last thirty days. For example, on 5 February 2013, the recently added list included fifteen selections, such as the Aberdeen Journal (various years between 1902 and 1950), the Dublin Evening Mail (1854 and 1871), the Gloucester Citizen (various years between 1915 and 1950), the Stamford Mercury (1715-1716, 1783, 1882-1893 and various other years through 1912) and the West London Observer (1953 and 1956). Included in the full list of titles are the Caledonian Mercury (1720-1867), the London Daily News (1846-1900), the Oxford Journal (1753-1900), and Yorkshire Gazette (1819-1913).

In order to make your search as efficient as possible, I recommend that you read both the FAQ sections on “Getting Started” as well as “Search Tips.” The latter is particularly important so that you can understand how the keyword search is conducted. For example, an important tip is the suggestion to use a “phrase search” (located in the advanced search option) when searching for a “specific forename/surname combination.” In addition, filters are available to narrow your search, including region, date, article type, newspaper, and the ability to limit a search only to articles appearing on the front page of a newspaper issue.

My Edward Duncan (phrase search), with no filters, resulted in 1,222 articles. However, filtering for family notices appearing between August and December 1861 reduced that number to six – unfortunately none of which applied to my research needs.

As I have an interest in the 1745 Rebellion in Scotland, I was able to search the Caledonian Mercury, published in Edinburgh, and located an issue printed a few days after the Battle of Culloden (16 April 1746). Included in it is a letter “from an Officer in his Royal Highness the Duke of Cumberland’s Army, to a Friend at Edinburgh,” dated the day after the battle stating, in part: “They likewise attacked our Right, but were repulsed directly, and charged in the Retreat by Kingston’s Horse, which made great Slaughter. In short, they all run away as fast as they could, and were pursued by the Cavalry as far as this Town [Inverness], who took about 600 Prisoners, and I think, by the Number of Bodies on the Field of Battle and on the Road to this Place, there is near 2000 of them killed and wounded.”

One of the site’s most innovative features is the “My Research” area. If you purchase a credit package, all images that you have viewed are automatically saved to “My Research.” You can then bookmark images and organize them into folders for more convenient access. In addition, by using the “My Notes” function, you can make annotations useful to your research. (Your notes are private.) These images remain available during the subscription period for those with annual subscriptions; for those with “pay per view” packages, images remain for two months following the expiration of the term of the package. Images may also be downloaded and/or printed. Another option includes the ability to order a print (or a framed print) of a specific search result. The prints are provided “on heavy-weight satin finish paper, sized 23” x 23”, using special archival ink.” Yet another interesting feature is the sample document that can be viewed (must be either registered or have purchased a package) at no cost. On 5 February the image was from the Oxford Journal of 23 February 1788, and was the announcement of Charles Edward Stuart’s (Bonnie Prince Charlie’s) death in Rome on 31 January 1788. You can also keep up to date with interesting facts, documents, and stories at the site’s blog.

A final note, without the addition of which I would be remiss in this discussion: The “Terms and Conditions” governing the use of this archive is seven pages long and should be read in their entirety. In essence, they state “You can only use the website for your own personal non-commercial use. This means you can use the website to: purchase goods that we may sell on the website; research newspaper archives and other archives featured on the website that you are interested in; download and print low-resolution content for free or high-resolution content subject to payment of a fee (in either event, you cannot share the hardcopy with any third party); transcribe and quote from website content that is out of copyright; use website content that is still in copyright … which includes the website content for private study, research for non-commercial purposes (provided a suitable acknowledgement is included), and criticism, review and news reporting; make use of the social network functionality on the website including our networking tag and comment facilities; and post links to any article or content of interest on third part sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Google. We are also happy for you to help out other people by telling them about the newspaper archives and other information available on the website and how and where they can be found. However, you must not provide them with copies of any of the newspapers (either an original image of the newspapers or the information on the results page), even if you provide them for free.”2

I highly recommend the British Newspaper Archives if you are researching a family line in the British Isles, or if you are looking for historical background information for an article or book. It is easy to use, with a cost that is both economical and easily tailored to your needs.


1 “British Library and brightsolid partnership to digitize up to 40 million pages of historic newspapers; press release, 24 May 2010 brightsolid (,-data-storage-and-publishing/latest-news/recent-news/british-library-and-brightsolid-partnership-to-digitise.html : accessed 5 February 2013).

2 Terms and Conditions, British Newspaper Archive                

( : accessed 5 February 2013).



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