Your BNA Stories – ‘Suddenly Discovering That My GG-Grandfather Was a Writer!’ | The British Newspaper Archive Blog


Your BNA Stories – ‘Suddenly Discovering That My GG-Grandfather Was a Writer!’

We love it when you go all ‘ancient mariner’ and tell us about your amazing discoveries in the BNA. Janice Wood of the Ryedale Family History Group recently sent us a tweet to share a ‘Eureka!’ moment that had while searching the Archive for (previously) lost ancestors.

Janice discovered that – well, we don’t want to give away the story. But if you liked that old ‘Yellow Pages’ advert about the old gentleman looking for an out-of-print book, then you’ll love Janice’s wonderful story…


Thanks British Newspaper Archive. You found me a gen gem!

For several years I have searched for information about my great great grandfather Samuel Copland. The census told me he was born at Great Witchingham (now known as Lenwade) in Norfolk. His son, my great grandfather, Thomas Copland went to Dublin, and I have found no evidence of any correspondence with his family left behind, so it was hard to find anything about Samuel and his wife Deborah.

I have the death certificate of Samuel. He died in 1876, aged 91, in Essex. This tells me little, except that he is a ‘gentleman’ and his son-in-law John Smithers was the informant.

I have also the death certificate of Deborah Copland, which has revealed this tantalising snippet, arousing my curiosity; ‘Widow of Samuel Copland, a leader writer for the press’ – Leader writers do not usually put their names to anything, so the chance of finding something that Samuel had written was looking a bit slim. Deborah died in Beccles, Suffolk, in 1888. The informant was, again, her son-in-law, John Smithers.

Many times I had searched the newspaper indexes online for Samuel, with no results. Then, in an idle moment, I tried a search for Deborah Copland. This opened up a whole field of information. What I read was this:

‘COPLAND – May 10 at Beccles. Deborah, widow of Samuel Copland (“The Old Norfolk Farmer”) aged 95.’ Sheffield Evening Telegraph, Saturday May 12 1888. This is the first reference I have ever found to ‘the Old Norfolk Farmer.’


Another question immediately comes to mind – why the Sheffield Evening Telegraph? Whatever …. the biggest clue was ‘the Old Norfolk Farmer.’ So a Google search for this phrase was the next step, revealing several articles about farming but, – and this is the most interesting of all, a book; “Agriculture, Ancient and Modern: A historical account of its principles and practice, exemplified in their rise, progress and development.” By Samuel Copland, “the Old Norfolk Farmer,” of the Mark Lane Express. There are two volumes. Note: Mark Lane Express was an Agricultural and Trading newspaper, started in 1832. Again, thanks to BNA for revealing this.

My next quest was to obtain a copy of these volumes. This took me to a bookseller in Holt, Norfolk, where I was fortunate to find a first edition, in green morocco leather binding, of these wonderful tomes. It appears, from further research, that the Copland clan had some interests in the Holt district, as well as Great Witchingham.

Digging a little deeper, I discovered an earlier work by Samuel Copland. No mention of the old Norfolk farmer here, but a ‘History of Madagascar’ written in 1822. The full title of this work is, – “A History of the island of Madagascar, comprising a political account of the island, the religion, manners, and customs of its inhabitants, and its natural productions ; with an appendix, containing a history of the several attempts to introduce Christianity into the island.” There is also a first edition of this one available, although a bit out of my price range. I wasn’t entirely sure that this was by the same Samuel Copland but, having read the preface, which he signs S Copland, Stepney, 1822, I am convinced, as I know he was in Stepney in the 1820s when some of his children were born. Samuel appears to have been a missionary, working in Madagascar.

I am particularly interested in the history of agriculture, as I have worked with an earlier work, William Marshall’s “The Rural Economy of Yorkshire” written in 1788. I was responsible for producing this on a CD for Yorkshire Ancestors – This is also of great interest to members of the Ryedale Family History Group (, as William Marshall was establishing an agricultural college in Pickering, North Yorkshire. His house is now a museum. But that’s another story!


9 comments On Your BNA Stories – ‘Suddenly Discovering That My GG-Grandfather Was a Writer!’

  • What a wonderful ‘find’… never know what will pop up! Congratulations ….the books are an added bonus!

    It gives us all an added incentive to continue searching!

  • I have read Janice’s account of her discovery with great interest. What a wonderful example of luck and real persistance in searching. She must be thrilled at what she has found.

  • i am searching books my gt gt grand
    william joseph seaman born 1811 in morlake norfolk wrote two london locksmiths and many more, have you any advise where i can look;.

    valerie gough.

  • I have been researching my ancestry and have a sketch in an old autograph book of Great Witchingham Hall where my ggg grandfather lived. His name was William Copland- born in 1782. I am wondering if he and Samuel could have been brothers!

    • The British Newspaper Archive

      Hi Penny,
      Thanks for the post.
      If you’re okay with it, I could pass on your email address to Janice Wood?
      Best regards,

  • That would be great!

  • I was searching through my attic and have found both of these volumes in there. I have no idea how they came to be there as my family have no connection to Norfolk! Do you have any idea if they are worth anything or how I can go about selling them?
    Many thanks

    • The British Newspaper Archive

      Hi Steven,
      I’ve no idea if they’re valuable.
      Maybe the person who wrote this article would be interested in them, though.
      If you like, I could pass on your email address to her?

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