Family History Resources: Newspaper Microfilms and Online Newspaper Databases

As part of a series examining family history resources for beginners, Local and Family History’s Josh Flint takes an in-depth look at one of the most useful resources for your family history research: online newspapers databases. This article will discuss how Leeds Libraries members can use multiple newspaper databases online and then show in detail how to use one of them, The British Library’s Nineteenth Century Newspapers.

The usual first port of call for anyone wanting to use local newspapers to research their family history (or the history of their local area) is via the extensive microfilm archive housed in the Local and Family History department of our Central Library. There you will find copies of important newspapers – such as the Leeds Mercury, the Leeds Intelligencer, the Yorkshire Post and the Yorkshire Evening Post – stretching back to the early 18th-century. You can browse a full list of our collection, including a guide to physical copies of some newspapers, on our local newspapers directory.

But, as well as visits to the library itself, with your Leeds Libraries card you can access a variety of online newspaper databases including The British Library’s Nineteenth Century Newspapers, The Times Digital Archive, PressReader, The London Gazette Online and NewsBank. All of these websites can be a valuable resource when researching your Family History. This article will demonstrate how to find these online newspaper databases through the Leeds Libraries Online website and then focus on one of these websites; Nineteenth Century Newspapers, as it has access to the Leeds Mercury, the oldest Leeds newspaper.

Section 1 – How to access the newspaper databases

First, visit our Online Resources page.

Under the heading ‘Resources available anywhere’ you will see a list of all the newspapers that Leeds Libraries has access to along with direct links. These include the British Library’s Nineteenth Century Newspapers, The Times Digital Archive 1785 – 2019 and NewsBank. Now you are ready to research your family history using these newspaper databases.

Have your library card number to hand as you will need it to access these resources.

Section 2 – The British Library’s Nineteenth Century Newspapers

The British Library’s Nineteenth Century Newspapers is a great resource when researching your family history. Newspapers can offer the chance to find a variety of information that is not held in the usual family history resources, such as Birth, Marriage and Death Records and Census Records. For example, newspapers are commonly used to find ancestors death and obituaries which can offer a contemporary and personal reaction to the death of a family member. This section will show you how to use The British Library’s Nineteenth Century Newspapers to find an obituary.

The British Library’s Nineteenth Century Newspapers Homepage

Here is the homepage for the British Library’s Nineteenth Century Newspapers. I would recommend using the Advanced Search option to make a more detailed search. As with all search functions you can get inundated with irrelevant results if you are not specific with your search.

Hint – If you cannot find what you are looking for with a detailed search, slowly make the search wider and hopefully you will find the correct article.

For this example I am going to show how to find an obituary for a R. Mangnall who died in 1820. To find the obituary for R. Mangnall, I searched simply Mangnall Obituary and the chose the dates 1815 – 1825, as I was unsure when the death happened it was useful to give a wide range of dates. I then most importantly chose to only look for newspaper articles that were published in the Leeds Mercury, as I was only looking for newspaper articles from the Leeds area. The Leeds Mercury is the only Leeds newspaper that is available on Nineteenth Century Newspapers.

Nineteenth Century Newspapers Search
Nineteenth Century Newspapers Date Search

As you can see the search results highlight the section of the newspaper that best matched the search. You may have to check each result to find the relevant article. You may have to try various wordings and dates to expand your search and find your article.

Hint – Don’t give up, sometimes it can take a looking through a good few newspaper articles until you find what you are looking for.

Nineteenth Century Newspaper Searched Results

Here we have the Obituary of Miss R. Mangnall from the Leeds Mercury on the 13th May 1820. You can see how much information is in a detailed obituary. This obituary leaves the readers with an excellent impression of Miss Mangnall, calling her an ‘accomplished and excellent woman.’ This obituary gives a lot of information about the occupation and social life that Miss Mangnall had, including that she had instructed a lot of girls in her profession and devoted much of her time to charities. Finally obituaries can be useful as they often give a cause of death, in this case Miss Mangnall was suffering from problems with her lungs. As you have seen from this obituary that is only a paragraph long we have been able to have a well-rounded description of Miss R. Mangnall’s character, life and death.

Mangnall Obituary Leeds Mercury 13th May 1820.

Hint – Not everyone will have an obituary in the newspapers, if you feel like you have had a thorough search then it is safe to assume that the obituary isn’t there. Remember it may be worth asking someone to have a look as they may try slightly different searches that have dramatically different results.

Newspaper can be helpful for family history research for a variety of reasons. Family history researchers often want to know what happened to family businesses that their ancestors had owned or worked for. Newspaper are a great resource as they often list businesses that have become bankrupt. This not only gives the date of bankruptcy but also gives a full description of the business itself, including details of who owned the business and what profession the business was in. Newspapers often write whole articles about larger businesses that have declared bankruptcy such as in the article below about George Crumbie’s Tobacco business.

Bankrupt Businesses Leeds Mercury 12th May 1821
Bankruptcy Crumbie Leeds Mercury 12th May 1821

These articles and this blog article has examined the various types of family history information that can be found by using the British Library’s Nineteenth Century Newspapers. Newspaper databases are an invaluable resource and one of the best ways to add important detail to your ancestor’s lives, making their lives more comparable to our own.

Please contact the Local and Family History Library if you are having any difficulties in accessing or using any of our historical newspapers – or 0113 378 6982

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