Using newspapers for your Scottish genealogy research
Do you find yourself daunted at the prospect of researching your Scottish ancestors? Keep the heid! There exists a fantastic array of records that can get you further along in your family history research. The main problem, however, is access. Much of what exists has not been ditigised, and for those that have been, many are not indexed. It is overwhelming figuring out where to search and what records, if they were created, survive to this day. Thankfully, The British Newspaper Archive is a perfect resource for filling in gaps in your search and pointing you in the right direction.
The British Newspaper Archive has some very early newspapers, many of which were some of the first ever published. These tend to focus more on events than people, but even this is very useful to gain historical context and understand the period your ancestors lived through. We hold eighteenth-century titles such as the Caledonian Mercury, a title that, in 1725 during the Malt Tax riots, would publish rival political factions’ aims and objectives. The first Glasgow newspaper published, the Glasgow Courant, also makes an appearance.
Those who left
Many Scots left their homes in search of better opportunities; can newspapers help you figure out where they might have gone? Local publications printed employment notices that can provide clues as to where your ancestor may have gone for work. For example, miners were in demand in the United States for a time and would advertise in various mining areas abroad. If such an advertisement offered a promise of work and a decent wage, you may find that your ancestor jumped at the opportunity. Other common destinations for emigrating Scots include Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
In addition to national papers, The Archive contains at least one newspaper for every county in Scotland. Not only are the major cities and towns covered but also the Western Isles, Orkney, Shetland, and the many villages of the Highlands.
Take a map and explore the local area of interest to your research. Check the coverage of each publication as you may find they cover more than their titles suggests. For example, Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald covers more than just the area of North Ayrshire around Ardrossan; it also includes coverage of the Isle of Arran in its entirety.
Remote localities were just as eager for news as their larger counterparts and, due to their smaller populations, such local papers often provide a greater chance of finding your ancestors in print.
When starting your research, begin with only your ancestor’s surname and a location. (This may lead to the discovery of heretofore unknown relatives.) Narrow the year range to between your ancestor’s birth and death years.
If you knew your ancestor died in a specific city, try searching ‘surname’ +’city’, which will search all newspapers that include the search criteria. However, if you are only interested in papers from that given city, narrow your search by place name in the advanced search and search for your ancestor’s surname.
Remember, local stories were not only reported in the geographically closest newspaper; news coverage was often syndicated in publications from the surrounding areas and national papers. It is best not to limit your search to only one region when first starting your research.