Outside of reports about the famous or infamous, newspapers might be disregarded at first as a source of genealogical information. Marriages and deaths though, are some of the most important pieces of information contained in newspapers and this is true of early newspapers too. The newspaper was a good facility for announcing this information but earlier than 1750 this type of reporting was confined to the noble classes.
The local provincial newspapers begin surprisingly early in some cases. The Ballina Impartial for example, was first published in the Mayo town in 1823 while the neighbouring town of Castlebar first published its Mayo Constitution in the 1790s. In 1859 the Galway Vindicator reported on the death of Loughrea woman Catherine Fahy. Catherine was the beloved wife of John Fahy, a local Merchant and 'general stockmaster'. It seems that Catherine had been sick for some time but had suffered through her illness 'with exemplary patience and resignation'. She was lauded for her charity work, and 'lady-like deportment', a trait that apparently enamored her to all who knew her. She died, the newspaper reported, in the prime of her life, her demise causing a deep sorrow. In the same year, the Vindicator also reported on the marriage of Rev. William Rigsby. The Reverend, who was Rector of Clongish, Co. Longford married Sarah Rebecca, the only child of the late Rev. William LePoer Trench, Bishop and Rector of Moylough.
Both death and marriage notices vary in the extent of information they contain. If a wedding took place outside of Ireland it was usually reported within a few weeks and for most marriage announcements this might be the only remaining written record, especially if the event took place in the 1700s.
A happy couple
A second overlooked newspaper resource are the advertisements. Although mention of individuals is not always overt, named businesses can give a clue to a location, making the business owners easier to trace using other sources. These resources also indicate when business moved from one premises to another or when a son took over the business after the death of his father. Change of ownership advertisements are potentially great sources of family history. In the Drogheda Journal in 1813 for example, an advertisement reported that Michael O'Ferrall hoped to succeed his father, Francis at the Drogheda Foundry. He would 'obtain possession of his house in Shop Street and intends carrying on the hardware and ironmongery business, and as his brother John removes to West Street with the present stock in trade, there will be an entire supply of new and fashionable goods...' Unfortunately advertisements like these do not make reference to small farmers or cottiers, thus leaving out a large part of Irish society.
A final piece of information to be found, especially in later newspaper are local parish notes and competition wins. If you know the broad area in which your ancestor lived, this additional information can add colour to an ancestor's life story. It's interesting to know that a great-grandfather won the local Christmas raffle or parish draw for example.
Joyce's Hotel, Clonbur (c) NLI
In general, the newspapers are most useful to those whose ancestors were in the professional classes - doctors, lawyers and others of the business middle class. Newspapers can be found in most local libraries as well as the National Library in Dublin. Online sources such as the British Newspaper Archives and Irish Newspaper Archives provide subscription services, as well as Newspapers.com and Genealogy Bank.
There are some great free newspaper sites that you can use to search for ancestors.
This site offers a large collection of New York City and New York State death notices and newspaper extracts.
This is the Library of Congress website with a large collection of digitsed newspapers from all over the U.S. from 1789 onwards.
This is the Australian newspaper database known as Trove. It is one of the best newspaper sites in the world that the Australian Government has created.
This is a New Zealand newspaper source which is very good for research.
The Canadiana website is a repository with a collection of multiple resources including newspapers.
Google News is another very good resource which has a number of newspapers uploaded to the site. It is not complete, but very useful to search.
This collection of newspaper extracts is very good for U.S. research and Canadian research.
This is an Irish newspaper extracts collection which is organised by county.
The London Gazette and Belfast Gazette which noted information from both England and Northern Ireland.
Extracts from various Northern Ireland newspapers to include the Belfast Newsletter, Belfast Weekly News and Banner of Ulster.
The NLI has a database of what newspaper titles exist and in which archives they are located.
County Archives in Ireland with online newspaper database collections:
County Archives in Ireland with in-house newspaper collections:
For an interesting Ancestor Profile that made good use of newspaper articles for information, please see: Judith O'Meara
Find out more about the local Library services available in the IrelandXO Local Guide.