Using Newspapers for Local History Research recap – The British Newspaper Archive Blog

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Using Newspapers for Local History Research recap

Hopefully, you were able to join us live for our local history webinar, presented by Michala Hulme. However, if you weren’t able to catch it live or want a refresher, watch it on our YouTube channel here!

In reviewing the lively and engaging Q&A that took place during the webinar, we’ve pulled out a few questions that we wanted to highlight and expand upon.

Search tip 1

Can The British Newspaper Archive distinguish between buildings, ships, towns, and surnames? Every time I search on my surname, it comes up with everything.

A search term will be searched against the full text of all articles held on The British Newspaper Archive. However, by using the advanced search option, you can apply some filters that can, for example, help surface results for a person instead of a ship.

Advanced search screen
Advanced search — excluding terms and searching on an exact phrase

As seen in the above image, you can exclude words that would likely bring up irrelevant results for your search. In this instance, we’ve excluded the terms ‘HMS’ and ‘ship’ so that in our search for the surname ‘Chester’, we don’t get results for the HMS Chester. Additionally, to help ensure results related to the surname Chester, we’ve used the ‘used exact phrase’ field to search on “Mr. Chester”. First names were often not printed, leaving just a title and surname.


Use the double quotation mark (“) around an exact search phrase.


Search tip 2

I am interested in what was taking place in English-speaking Caribbean — can you guide me to specific newspapers?

While we do not hold any newspapers published in the West Indies at this time, you can find stories relating to the Caribbean in our newspaper holdings. This is important to keep in mind for any place you are interested in researching: we may not have newspapers published from that place, but we may still have articles pertinent to your area of interest. This is particularly true for any place that was once part of the British empire as our English papers would have a vested interest in keeping updated on all news pertaining to the empire. Additionally, it is important to know what name a place was known by during the years you are interested in, In this instance, you would want to also be searching the newspapers for ‘West Indies‘ and not just ‘Caribbean‘. The former search term yields 987,907 results while the latter returns just 30,948 articles.

Search for news related to the Caribbean

Search tip 3

If you’re interested in the social history of an area, start your search broadly! It would be a shame to miss out on a fascinating tidbit due to too-narrow search parameters. This could mean broadening your search criteria by country, region, newspaper title, or search terms.

For example, it is logical that in searching for news on Caerphilly, you would want to narrow your results to those from South Wales. However, other newspapers in different regions may have picked up a story related to Caerphilly. Try searching the whole of Wales instead. As noted by Michala, newspapers outside your designated area of interest may include different details or a new perspective on a story they picked up about your place/person of interest.

country and region filters
Country and region filters

Search tip 4

As suggested by Michala, you can search by a street name, using the filters to narrow your results. The British Newspaper Archive has some of its stellar employees based in Dundee, near the Firth of Tay. In doing a street name search for a nearby road (Perth Road), we found this lovely little map of the area, included in an article on the growth of Dundee.

Dundee map
Map of Dundee | The Sphere | 13 February 1954

Discover how The British Newspaper Archive can aid in your local history research

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