19 June 2009

UK: 19th century newspapers now online

The British Library has placed online 2 million digitized pages of 19th-century newspapers. As a journalist and a genealogist, I utilize such resources frequently.

Some of the best features of historic papers are the advertisements, which help us understand what our ancestors spent their money on, what they might have dreamed of acquiring, and what businesses they opened, among many other tidbits of data.

The articles also provide a glimpse of the society in which our ancestors participated, giving us a better idea of how they lived and what was important to them.

Genealogists, historians, researchers and the merely curious can search the 49 national and regional UK papers for free, but downloading pages is on a pay-as-you-go basis: £6.99 for a 24-hour pass (up to 100 downloads) or a £9.99 seven-day pass (up to 200 downloads). Access to The Graphic and The Penny Illustrated Paper is free.

The price seems very reasonable. In any case, it is considerably cheaper than a flight to London and a hotel room in order to research the hardcopy pages at the Library.

The holdings were selected by experts and academics, and represent a cross-secton of 19th-century society including business and sport, politics and entertainment.

The collection focuses on national newspapers such as the Daily News, English regional papers, (e.g., Manchester Times), home country newspapers from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, weekly titles such as Penny Illustrated Paper and Graphic and specialist titles.

Users are now able to read first-hand factual reporting of the Battle of Trafalgar in the Examiner and the gory details of the Whitechapel murders in the melodramatic Illustrated Police News.
The free search (which provides only the search term in context in a snippet of the item) using the terms "jewish or jew or hebrew," produced some 155,000 hits.

A search for Cohen produced more than 45,000 hits. Some of these, of course, are not accurate, as a search for "jew," often produces "jewelry" or "jewels."

"Hebrew" produced more than 33,000 hits and offered advertisements for books, articles on languages, as well as items referring to the Jewish community.

There were more than 8,000 hits for "synagogue," and some appeared very interesting; here's an example of what you will see using the free search.

A list of relevant items will include the type of mention, the paper and the date of publication, and a thumbnail of the page, with the article highlighted in yellow:

Click on the thumbnail and see a snipped of text with the search term:

Access to The Penny Illustrated is free, however, and I found this information on a Dover synagogue in that paper, dated Saturday, October 19, 1861, in the column titled "Social Progress," on page 30:

Explore the new site here.

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