Newspapers & Magazines

Newspapers & Magazines

Old newspapers and magazines can be a really wonderful source of material for both historians and genealogists.

They fall into four main categories:

  • Broadsheets
  • Local newspapers, usually published weekly during the 1800s or earlier
  • National weekly magazines
  • Specialist magazines


Broadsheets were usually large sheets of paper, printed on one side. The same terms is used today of course, but is based on these very earliest forms of newspapers. In addition to news, they were used for advertisements and announcements. Old broadsheets are very rare, as they were not intended to survive.

Local Newnewspaper from torquay and torspapers

Just as today, where local newspapers keep people up to date with local happenings and events, advertisements, etc., the newspapers of the 1700s and 1800s did just the same. All of the things that were of interest to our ancestors, and often which involved them directly.

Some local newspapers are available on microfilm at local studies libraries, but generally one has to visit to view them, or use the archives’ research service.

A selection of the British Library’s newspaper collection has been digitised by Gale Cengage (a commercial company) and is searchable online (pay per view). This includes the so-called Burney Collection (17th and 18th centuries), the 19th Century Newspapers database, and The Times Digital Archive. Many county libraries subscribe to these databases so that library members can access them online free of charge, either at a local library or from home. A further commercial project to digitise the British Library’s entire newspaper collection has been agreed with another commercial provider, brightsolid.

Digitising can be done either from films or better still, from the original newspapers, which produces far superior results. Furthermore, scanning the original newspapers allows an unsurpassed quality which can be processed with optical character recognition software to make them fully searchable. One of the “problems” with old newspapers, is that they are notoriously difficult to index effectively, and therefore by making them searchable, they can be used in a superb new way!

National weekly magazines

From the early 1800s there began a new style of magazine. They were either weekly or monthly publications, with articles covering both general news and travel articles, etc.

The Penny Magazine


The Penny Magazine was published weekly, from 1832, by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. A collection of hundreds of fascinating and informative illustrated articles with a very wide range of topics, both for Great Britain and various other parts of the world. They contain wonderful illustrations!

The Penny Magazine can sometimes be found as individual issues, but they were also published in yearly volumes. Originals are rare.

The photo (left) shows a collection of yearly volumes, leather bound, from 1832 to 1840, together with the title page from one of them.

These magazines are all available on CD from the Parish Chest as facsimile copies for viewing using Adobe Acrobat Reader.


Illustrated London News

The Illustrated London News most probably the most interesting of the “magazine” newspapers published.

A weekly publication, it contains a superb collection of news and informative articles, and lots of excellent illustrations ranging from those depicting overseas events in all parts of the world, and those in England. Churches, people, wonderful early views of towns and villages, etc.

It provides an excellent source of reference material for historians and genealogists.

The weekly editions can occasionally be found, usually bound into volumes of all of the issues for a half year, and it is these collections on CD from Parish Chest Ltd that can be viewed easily using Adobe Acrobat Reader.

The Illustrated London News also published special editions covering various events, such as the The Transvaal War 1899-1900. An illustrated record of the Boer War. The part played in the struggle by England & Wales, Ireland, Scotland, The Colonies, The Cavalry, Women, The Navy, The Artillery and The Medical Staff.

This issue contains hundreds of illustrations, including portraits of officers and VC heroes, together with detailed descriptions of the battles, etc. A wonderfully fascinating contemporary account which is of great interest to both historians and genealogists.

Specialist magazines

There are lots of old magazines devoted to various topics, just as there are today. Anything from old automobile magazines to specialist topics such as those written during the time of the Great War.

The Magazine of The Great War

This was a weekly magazine in 272 volumes. “A standard history of the World-Wide Conflict, including eye-witnesses’ stories of striking incidents throughout the field of operations”.

The first volume was published in August 1914, and others as the war unfolded, through to its conclusion. “The 272 parts of The Great War will remain the unrivalled record of the most stupendous event in the history of humanity. Produced in the years of storm and stress, and often under distracting conditions, it will lack the poise and perspective of the cloistered historian’s work, to be written a generation hence far removed from the passions and miseries of the events recorded; but it will at no time, near or distant, stand in fear of any rival as a vivid and fascinating pictorial record of the world-wide conflict”.

This is history written as it was happening, complete with hundreds of maps, and thousands of photographs. It includes the land, sea and air conflicts, and not from just a British perspective. Much of it is from the German perspective, and much is about the conflicts of all of the other European allies, and of course, the part played by the Americans, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders, etc.

For newspapers and parish magazines listed by county, just visit the Parish Chest.