The British Newspaper Archive attended Who Do You Think You Are? Live at London Olympia this month, helping a number of people track down their ancestors in our newspapers.
Don’t worry if you weren’t able to attend the family history show – we’ve asked our lovely team to share their top search tips here so that you can take advantage of them too.
1) Put “quote marks” around a name
This will tell the website that you only want to find newspaper reports in which the two words appear next to one another, giving you more relevant results.
2) Search the whole country
Bear in mind that news stories were reported around the country, not just where they took place. One customer found this article about a fire in London included in an Aberdeen newspaper:
Aberdeen Journal – Wednesday 25 September 1935
Image © D.C.Thomson & Co. Ltd. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.
3) Enter a specific date range
Focusing your search on a particular date range will give you more relevant results. Click on the ‘Advanced’ link next to the search box and enter the period you’d like to search.
4) Search for an event instead of a name
Newspaper reports might not have listed the names of the people involved. For instance, one customer couldn’t find an article about his military ancestor’s death, but found a full report when he searched for “44th regiment”.
5) Try alternative names
Mary Smith could have been recorded as Mrs M Smith, Mrs Smith or as the wife of Joseph Smith. One customer found this article after she tried searching for the husband of the ancestor she was looking for:
Derby Daily Telegraph – Tuesday 01 August 1944
Image © Local World Limited. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.
6) Use the terminology of the time
Bear in mind that the way we refer to events changes over time. For instance, newspapers would have referred to ‘the war’ during 1915, not to World War One.
7) Work through the names in your family tree
Try searching for each person in your family tree, even if you’re not expecting to find anything. Amy from The British Newspaper Archive has found her ancestors mentioned in stories that she would never have thought to look for. Here’s one example:
Herts Guardian, Agricultural Journal, and General Advertiser – Tuesday 02 July 1867
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
8) Try your search again
More newspaper pages are added every week, so not finding something may just mean that the report isn’t online yet. Sign up to receive our monthly email newsletter to hear about the latest additions to the website.