“Today’s news – tomorrow’s fish and chip paper,” or so the saying goes.
But even in these days of 24-hour digital news coverage, when stories come and go in the blink of a pixel, there is still a place for the humble newspaper. How many of you, like me, have gone out and bought a newspaper on a day of national importance such as a Royal Wedding or during the Olympics? Or perhaps you have carefully cut out that photo of your little one winning the Under-7s football league or proudly holding their award for reading 100 books? As the most enduring format for delivering our news, the local rag can also be a precious resource for the historian:
Providing First-hand Evidence
This week, I was excited to receive a bundle of original newspapers from Thomas Walker at Historic Newspapers, along with a free teaching resource book for my children’s school, showing excerpts from newspapers between 1914 and 1919. Thomas says, ‘Each newspaper is filled with stories from eyewitnesses who were present at the time, making it a pleasurable way to aid learning and engage a pupil’s interest and imagination. The World War One newspaper book can be used to discuss the changing nature of conflict, the cooperation between countries, the shift of alliances and the lasting impact of the war on national, ethnic, cultural and religious issues.’ For free teaching resources for your school, please visit www.historic-newspapers.co.uk.
Details bring History Alive
Treasure troves from the past, the original newspapers I received were avidly pored over in the office as my colleagues read historic headlines such as: ‘Hilter Dead! Germany will battle on!’ ‘Crowning Glory – Everest is climbed,’ and ‘Man on the Moon.’ My personal favourite was the Daily Mirror from September 4th 1939 which led with the headline, ‘Britain’s first day of war: Churchill is new Navy Chief,’ and also contained details of the petrol rationing that immediately began; how Japan had ‘reassured Britain of her neutrality in the present war,’ and a warning to the people of Britain to, ‘Be silent, be discreet, enemy ears are listening to you.’
At home, my children were fascinated by the funny adverts for the ‘staying power’ of Kitkats and the Readers’ Letters sections on how to occupy your children by giving them scraps of fabric to pull apart and make cushions out of!
Your Moment of Fame
At Family Detective we often use newspaper archives to research our clients’ families. Just this week we discovered a murder from 1841 – sadly, our client’s 3rd great-grandmother was the victim. Sometimes we find record of ancestors who served as members of charity committees or local trusts which looked after the poor of their village. In one lovely article we found an account of a marriage in 1890. It listed everyone who had attended the wedding and all the gifts that were given including ‘marmalade spoons’ and ‘crumb brushes.’
Perhaps your ancestors were on the wrong side of the law and were listed under Bankrupts or in the Local Court section. One that sticks in my mind was a poor man I found who was imprisoned for stealing six turnips.
Whether it’s about an international catastrophe or a personal family achievement, a relevant newspaper article can really help us to engage with the past, even the differences in language, illustration and reporting style help to transport us back to a particular moment in time and help us to understand our history better.
Here are a few of the resources we recommend if you would like to explore newspaper archives:
Discussion: Well, that’s my list. Do you have any other newspaper resources you can share? Drop them in the comments! You can leave a comment by clicking here.