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How can newspapers help me with my research?

For family historians and social historians ancient newspapers are a time capsule - a window into the past.

Alongside the national and international news, you will find: news from the towns and villages through which the newspaper circulated; details of local marriages and obituaries; coroners reports; crime and punishment; competitions; sporting events; and local advertisements.

They complement rather than substitute entries in the Parish records. But when at their best they provide nuggets of information recorded in no other source of the lives of our ancestors and neighbours.


I have seen the possible marriage of my ancestor in a newspaper, but it does not agree with the Parish Records. Which version is correct?

Unfortunately newspapers were not infallible. Mistakes were made and in some instance deliberately misleading or mischievous information was introduced. So if something unexpected turns up it is always best to check the following week’s newspaper in case a correction was printed.

I have found a reference to an ancestor in your database. Do you have any suggestions which other newspapers I should search?

It is always worth trying to track down the paper which may have first printed the news item. As today, bad news in particular (an unfortunate accident for example) travelled well, and could appear in a number of different papers (sometimes quoting the source). Your best option is to search for alternative local publications assuming copies survive for dates you need.

For the UK you could consider the Online British Library Integrated Catalogue which lists local newspapers titles.

You might also consider purchasing a copy of Local Newspapers 1750-1920. Compiled by Jeremy Gibson, Brett Langston, and Brenda W. Smith. ISBN 1-86006-157-5

It should be stressed however, that even searching the British Library integrated catalogue and buying the guide to local newspapers by Jeremy Gibson will not guarantee that you will be able to locate the issue of the newspaper you need. Not all copies of newspapers have survived. This may not be apparent until you search the microfilm or original copies at the British Library at Colindale and other repositories.


I searched for my ancestor but didn’t find any matches. Would I be correct to assume my ancestor was never reported in the newspaper?

The newspaper images available at lastchancetoread have been through a process of optical character recognition (OCR) to make them searchable. Unfortunately due to the quality of the original newspapers not all text will be “read” correctly. We therefore intend over time compare forenames and surnames appearing in the newspapers with those in the OCR, and where necessary, manually correct the OCR to improve search results. Unfortunately this is likely to take several years. In the meantime we would recommend the use of wildcard searches and fuzzy searches to maximise your chance of finding your ancestor.


Why are the lines of text in the newspaper curved?

While preparing the newspapers for digitalisation it was apparent that paper of some older newspapers, had over the years, slightly distorted (possibly due to variable levels of humidity). While specifically for some issues of the Police Gazette the text as printed has a bow or curve (which has been reproduced by scanning).


Why can I see handwriting, crossing out, and other marks on the image of the newspaper?

In some instances e.g. Edinburgh Evening Courant, some of the copies in the collection appear to be the working office copies (so contain details of who placed the advertisements). In others we have name and address of to whom the paper was to be mailed to , and in others marks (usually in blue crayon) presumed to be highlighting changes to be made.

You may also notice some effects from foxing (discolouration of the paper), candle wax (presumably dropt be a previous reader), and spilt ink

In all instances it was thought better to retain the full image with the text. All the above marks are part of the history of the paper – the wear and tear on an antique


Why is your newspaper image of a page incomplete?

We would always prefer to have a pristine copy of a newspaper to include in the collection – unfortunately this isn’t always possible with such scarce material.

With the passage of time newspapers can be easily damaged through : poor storage conditions; insects; and human handling. So that that text can be obscured by hand written notes, wax (from candles), foxing, soot, and in extreme cases articles and advertisements may have been cut out and removed altogether.

To help you identify potentially damaged pages you will be able to view a small thumbnail of the page(s) before deciding whether to purchase or not. If as a result of viewing the thumbnail, you have any concerns, please contact us prior to payment


Can I view the collection at a Library?

Currently there is no Library version available. If there were sufficient interest from Libraries in the content available on this site, it would not be difficult to add this functionality.


Searching the Collection and some strategies for searching

Please see the help on the Advanced Search / Help page


What Size were the Newspapers?

Most of the collection falls into three sizes

Octavo (8vo): Common for 18th Century Magazines such as the European Magazine or London Magazine and would be roughly 8 1/2 inches tall by 5 inches wide  

Quarto (4to): Roughly 12 inches tall by 9 inches wide, this was the usual size for early newspapers

Folio: Roughly 17 inches tall by 11 inches wide, a common size for newspapers from the mid 18th Century

The exact sizes do vary according the amount of trimming required of pages for binding

I have downloaded a newspaper and would like to print out a cutting how can I do this ?

There are many ways to edit the pdf document to extact a section for printing. One possible method is to use Adobe Reader - here is a basic guide to help.

What is the Police Gazette ?

This was a free paper printed in London and Dublin which was circulated to Police Stations in Great Britain and Ireland. The site currently contains over 5,100 pages - mostly post for 1840 onwards (I currently only have 11 copies prior to this).

Most of the examples on this site were printed up to three times a week in a variable format as short as 2 pages in length to as long as 10 pages but typically we might expect 4 to 6 pages  

Contents varied but an issue might contain deserters and stragglers from the army, navy, militia, or marines – with detailed descriptions including age, date of birth, height, hair colour, and even tattoos and other distinguishing marks.   

Crimes and Criminals wanted . And from the early 1880’s - Photographs and Woodblock Engravings of individuals wanted by the Police

There are occasional mentions victims of crime and items stolen bearing a personal name e.g. medals or prizes And later issues include lists of criminals who are about to be released and men who have rejoined their Army unit.

As far as possible all forenames and surnames have been spell checked - so for rare names this is a very useful resource for family historians and other researchers.


What titles are available now and what will you be adding ?

Alongside the 5000+ pages from the UK Police Gazette highlights include rare copies of the 18th century : Newcastle Courant's and Newcastle Journal's; Lincoln Gazetter's; early copies of the Leeds Mercury; The Nottingham Monthly Miscellany and Nottingham Journal; London and County Journal; the Crisis from 1775; and Popes Bath Chronicle

From the 19th Century : Aberdeen Chronicle; Sheffield And Rotherham Independent; Figaro in London; Leicester and Nottingham Journal; Reynolds Political Instructor; Gloucester Herald; Northampton Mercury, fu; Gore's General Advertiser; and Flindalls Western Luminary (including a list of subscribers to this Exeter newspaper); the Maidstone Journal ; The Penny Sunday Times and Police Gazette ; Paul Pry; The Town; Colchester Gazette; Salisbury and Winchester Journal, The Salopian; Nottingham Journal ;
Belfast Commercial Chronicle  The Birmingham Journal, Bells Life in London" 1857 and 1863; and scarce copies "The Bristolian"

[For a full list of titles and dates just send me a request]

Recently I was able to add to my collection "A Selection of Mr Reads Weekly Journal or British Gazatteer from 1721 to 1725". Previously owned by Edwin Dearn, magician, magic collector, and a friend of Harry Houdini. Purchased from Birmingham book dealer James Wilson in 1924 it was rebound in Shanghai in 1925. It includes the deaths (among many others) of the 1st Duke of Marlborough, Sir Christopher Wren, a few pyrates, Blueskin, and Jack Sheppard. Also superb full page illustrations representing the South Sea Bubble.

Other recent addtions include : eight years of the Falmouth & Penryn Weekly Times 1871-1873, 1875, 1877, 1879, 1881 and 1885 ; Norfolk Chronicle 1806-1808, Jan-Jun 1809, 1810-1811; Kentish Gazette 1802-3 1807-1814 1820-1822; Cinque Ports Herald 1825-1827; Staffordshire Advertiser 1831-32 & 1838-39; County Press 1835-36; The News Jul 1830 - Dec 1831; Kent County Herald 1808 (Jan-Jun); Reformer 1834- 41; also more examples of the Aberdeen Chronicle and a few copies of the Essex Union


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There is no automatic facility to unsubscribe from Last Chance To Read. If a user wishes to unsubscribe please send an email via the contact form on the site requesting removal.

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