15 pro tips for searching British & Irish newspapers on Findmypast
Findmypast's historical newspaper archive collection is a potential goldmine of information on your ancestors. Here's how to make the most of it.
With millions of articles from thousands of publications, our British and Irish newspapers are an unrivalled family research resource. Not only can you search for your ancestors in them, but they are also fantastic for learning about the world in which your relatives lived.
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Plus, it's always fascinating to see how historic events were reported as they unfolded.
To help kick-start your newspaper research, we've compiled 15 expert tips from our team of in-house newspaper gurus. Got a question about the papers that isn't covered on our list? Reach out to the Findmypast Forum for help from our thriving community.
1. Get started for FREE
Over a million pages in our newspaper archives are completely free to search and view, giving everyone the chance to unearth rich family stories they won't find elsewhere. Select 'Free to View' from the 'Access Type' filter on the newspaper search page to see what's free.
What's more, there'll be millions of extra pages added to our free-to-view collection in the coming years in partnership with the British Library.
2. Begin with a broad search
Start searching Findmypast's British and Irish newspaper archive with just a name and filter down your results from there.
You can filter by date, location (place and county), newspaper title and article type. The different type of articles include adverts, family notices, illustrations and general news articles.
3. Look out for family tree information
The article type filter can limit your search results to just family notices, in other words, births, marriages and deaths.
If a birth notice was printed in your ancestor's local paper, the names of both parents will usually be included. Wedding notices might include names of other guests, such as the maid of honour or the father of the bride.
4. Cross-reference with other family records
If, for example, you want to find parents' details and you only know their child's name, your best bet would be to look for birth or baptism records before looking in the newspapers.
However, once you've done this, you can compare sources and fact-check your information.
5. Look for the language of the time
For example, if you were looking for a suicide you might also need to consider searching for the euphemisms of the day, such as 'did away with himself.' Another example may be looking for the outdated term 'lunatic' when searching for those in an institution, or the word 'infirm' when searching for someone that was disabled.
Newspapers tended to use more formal language for the most part, but look for several phrases and terms to really maximise your chances of getting useful results.
6. Beware of misprints
Sometimes names and other details were misspelt by the journalist who originally wrote them down, particularly in older papers. You can use wildcard searches to get around this.
7. Understand how digitisation works
The information on each of our newspaper pages is automatically captured, so your search may not always be 100% accurate. However, the optical character recognition (OCR) technology we use is the best method for capturing a large amount of information, quickly.
This is what makes it possible for us to publish brand new pages every week.
8. Make use of the search features
Our online page viewer allows you to zoom in and out and quickly find where your search criteria are mentioned on a page. But if you'd prefer to read offline, you can also download a page and save it forever.
You can also use the arrows to move around the page, while the circle in the middle of them will reset all of your settings, showing you the full page without any highlights. The screen icon at the bottom of the cross will allow you to see the page full screen, whereas the 'search terms' button will add or remove the blue highlights around your searched words.
9. Check the coverage
You can use the newspaper title filter to select the publication you are most interested in. The date filters at the left-hand side of the page will change to reflect which years are covered by that title. We also feature the years added each week in our Findmypast Fridays updates.
This will help you decide if the publication is relevant to you, and you can narrow down your search from there.
10. Explore Irish roots
There's a substantial collection of Irish newspapers dating back to the 1700s on Findmypast.
Select our Irish newspaper collection from the 'newspaper & periodical' search page. The search features work exactly the same way as those found in our British newspaper collection. You'll find millions of articles reporting on current affairs, local news, and international relations.
11. Choose local, regional or national papers
Our vast newspaper collection includes lots of regional and local titles. Find the ones you're most interested in using the newspaper title filter and searching for a county, town, or village. Local papers often have reports on changes in infrastructure, such as street name changes, which can come in very useful for one-place studies or house history.
They'll also sometimes have local affairs columns. The Woodford Times, for example, featured a section called 'Town Talk', which contained local London news from an external correspondent.
12. Uncover crime, court and crisis reports
Newspapers are very rich sources for all social classes. The courts of the time are recorded in great detail. You'll also discover local news stories that you won't get elsewhere, so searching for a parish or town is a sensible place to start.
During periods of crisis like the Irish Famine, you'll also find stories of the struggles of ordinary individuals, all of whom are likely to be named.
13. Unlock Welsh family wonders
The collection includes dozens of newspapers from all over Wales. Some of them are also Welsh language papers, such as Baner Ac Amserau Cymru.
Use the place filter and type in Wales to see what's available. For more Welsh family history tips, read our handy guide.
14. Stay up-to-date
As mentioned, we publish new papers and update existing ones with more pages every week on Findmypast Friday. It's always worth checking back regularly - you're bound to discover something new.