BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk is a collaboration between the British Library (a national institution) and the company behind the genealogy site FindMyPast.
This review goes in-depth into what BritishNewspaperArchive has to offer.
I also guide you through exploring whether you can find your ancestors and relatives before you take out a subscription.
A Summary Of Pros And Cons
- Nearly 1,500 United Kingdom & Irish regional and local newspapers
- Newspaper coverage across the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century
- Browse and search the full archive for free (no credit card required)
- Subscription as low as £7 or $10 per month
- Patchy newspaper coverage for some areas and time periods
- Some glitches with search filters *
- Download full pages instead of a clippings feature *
- Customer support based on email (no chat feature)
This review goes into detail on how to get around some search glitches and the lack of a clippings feature.
What Is BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk?
Here is a summary of the site and what it has to offer.
BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk is a subscription website that provides online access to a growing set of historic newspapers across the United Kingdom and countries within the former British empire.
The website provides browse and search features to retrieve and save images of newspaper pages.
The website allows free searches and a limited number of free saved documents. There are several subscription options, including pay-as-you-go credits.
Your main challenge when deciding if a purchase is worthwhile will be to evaluate if the site has relevant content for your ancestors and relatives.
I’ll show you how to search and evaluate the content in this review.
Who runs BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk?
The website is a collaboration between genealogy firm FindMyPast and the British Library (a national institution).
I’ve written an article that goes in-depth into the ownership of the British Newspaper Archive website.
I’ll simply repeat here that the British Library is a government-mandated institution with a legal right to preserve a physical copy of every newspaper published across the United Kingdom.
However, don’t expect the online archive to have a digital copy of every newspaper. They have to negotiate online publishing rights for 20th-century content.
Best for local and regional newspapers
You may be surprised to find that national newspapers like the London Times and the Manchester Guardian or not available on the online archive.
Of course, the British Library has a physical copy of every issue of these papers. But they haven’t negotiated the rights to put them online. And I doubt this is in their plans.
The collaboration with FindMyPast has focused instead on local and regional newspapers across the United Kingdom and its former colonies.
The latest figures from BritishNewsArchive is that they have put about 40 million pages online.
But that is a subset of hundreds of millions of pages from regional newspapers. The process of digitizing old newspapers takes time.
This means that coverage is fantastic for some areas and time periods, and quite patchy for others.
So, I advise you to take advantage of the free search access before you take out a subscription.
The next sections of this review go into how to assess whether a subscription is worthwhile to you.
Does The Archive Cover Where And When Your Family Lived?
When evaluating a newspaper archive for genealogy, I usually advise readers to start by browsing the list of newspapers from areas in which their ancestors and relatives lived.
Of course, your ancestors may crop up in “national” newspapers or the small newspaper in the next county.
But for your ancestors who lived uneventful lives, you’re more likely to find little nuggets in the local newspapers.
The Title Index Is Less Useful
You can find a full list of all titles here. Unfortunately, this particular page is not well designed to explore by region or time period. Don’t worry, I’ll show you something better.
The title index only allows filtering by four countries: England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. I think that’s far too broad – I want to be able to drill down into counties or towns.
The archive also has expanded into ex-colonial regions. For example, it has a growing list of Indian titles which is very welcome to many researchers. But you can’t filter here on countries outside the British isles!
Instead of scrolling through the alphabetic list of titles on this page, I’ll walk you through a much easier way to browse by area.
Choose Your Preferred “Browse” Category
Here’s my top tip on where to start on the site.
On the main page, I like to click on the “County” link beneath the search box.
But it doesn’t really matter which of these links you choose. You’re not locked into browsing by “county” or “date”.
All the links simply open the search results page as if you searched with a blank input. The results page shows you the first page of titles starting with “A”.
Crucially, you get a series of categories on the left that let you drill down into areas and time periods. The specific link just jumps the display to highlight a particular category.
The number beside each section shows you how many newspaper issues have been digitized to match that particular filter e.g. over 350K issues within “Yorkshire, England”.
Browsing By County
A branch of my family tree resided in the county of Surrey in the early 20th century, and I don’t see that in the short number of listed counties.
The “More” link gives you a search interface that lets you either enter a search term or pick a location by alphabet. I advise that you use the alphabet feature if you want to browse all titles within a county.
The search filter doesn’t work well with counties that have multiple towns (it forces you to pick one of the towns).
I clicked on “S” on the alphabet buttons and chose “Surrey, England” from the display. Now, I’m returned to the search results with the applied Counties filter.
From here, I could drill further into the three towns which are listed as places within the County category. But I want to stick with the County level.
In order to see which newspaper titles are within this filter, you need to scroll up a little to examine the “Newspaper” category.
You can see that four newspapers are found within Surrey. The numbers beside each title refer to the issues available online.
What about your time period of interest?
I’ve covered checking titles by geography, but do they cover the time period through which your relatives lived?
Scroll up the screen again, and you’ll find the dates breakdown at the top of the categories. The initial breakdown is in 50-year increments.
You can further drill down into ten-year periods, and finally down to a single year.
How To Research Your Family On BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk
In the previous section, I walked through examining the newspaper coverage for a particular area and time period.
But just because the site has newspapers from where your family resided, that doesn’t mean your relatives appear within their pages.
But now you have an idea of which newspaper titles could be useful. The next step is to run specific searches for your ancestors and relatives.
My advice is to start with a basic name search and filter down from there.
I’ll walk through an example in this section. In the next section, I’ll show you how to get past some common snags with newspaper searches.
The Basic Search interface doesn’t specify whether the term is a name or place or a historical event. This is as broad as you can get.
You can access the Basic Search from the Home Page.
In the example below, I’ve entered the surname of Gamble. I have family of this name who resided in Surrey, England in the early 20th century.
Narrowing to an area
This Basic Search is looking for “Gamble” across every newspaper in the archive.
The top result is from the Belfast Protestant Journal from 1846. This is the wrong country and time period.
The column on the left-hand side shows categories that let you filter down by date, title, and geography.
In the section in this article on evaluating geography and time frame, I worked through an example of using these filters to drill down to Surrey in the first half of the 20th century.
That is exactly what I need to repeat here (you can check back to the earlier section to see how I did it):
I use the “Filter by Counties” pop-up interface to choose Surrey from the alphabet list.
And then I further refine the dates by choosing “1900-1949”.
Having the best search experience
Some names make for more straightforward searches than others.
You will find it easiest to search for names that don’t have multiple meanings and won’t turn up in other contexts.
For example, “Bradley” and “Corbyn” will be easier to search for than “Brown” or “Cook”.
Unfortunately, a basic search on the latter two terms will turn up any page that refers to a “brown” color or a kitchen “cook”.
So, you may want to use the additional filters that the Advanced Search page gives you.
Don’t worry: advanced doesn’t mean rocket science, it just means there are more filters available.
Open the Advanced Search page using the link near the Basic Search input box.
You will now have several different filter options available:
- Search all words
- Search some words
- Exclude words
- Use exact phrase
You may need to experiment to find the best ways to filter out unwanted results.
Try adding a first name or a placename into the “Search all words” input box.
However, the drawback is that you can eliminate results that could be meaningful. Sometimes it’s better to scroll quickly down through the results pages. You’ll quickly learn to recognize what to skip by and which ones to view.
Drawback Of Erratic Advanced Search Filters
As I mentioned, one of my family branches has the name of “Gamble”. I encounter the same problem on every newspaper archive. You may find similar.
Take a look at my top results on BritishNewspaperArchive. Do you see the problem for me? Anything that mentions “gambling” is a match.
Of course, I’d like to exclude references to “gambling” when I search for “gamble” like I would on other subscription sites.
Unfortunately, the BritishNewspaperArchive site has flaws with some of the filter options (at the time of writing this review).
In other archives, I can add “gambling” to the “Exclude words” filter but that didn’t work for me on this site. Instead, I got no results whatsoever.
However, I discovered that I could filter out some of the results by ticking the “Exact search” option box and hit the search button for a new search.
Unfortunately, I also realized that the combination of search filters was a little glitchy.
When I added the “Exact match” filter, the Dates filter also worked correctly in combination.
But adding Location filters seemed to clear the effects of the “Exact match” filter, and vice versa. In other words, when I tried to add a filter for a specific County or Region, the “gambling” results reappeared.
The website has a forum that allows customers to submit issues with how the search process works. I saw a few people raise issues with the filtering.
For example, one customer wanted to run searches on the placename “Largs” and couldn’t figure out how to prevent matches on “large”.
Another had a similar problem with the placename “Lunds”. There is another place called “Lund” without an s, and the customer couldn’t prevent both from turning up in the search results.
Is there a workaround?
The issue that I encountered meant that there were lots of unwanted matches included in the search results for some queries.
As I experimented with additional filters, I saw that I was losing valuable results by over-filtering. And sometimes you can’t compensate for poorly designed software.
The workaround is to sacrifice some of the efficiency that filters give you. Make a cup of coffee and scroll down through the less filtered results.
When you first encounter the local article about a wedding anniversary and all the relatives who visited from out of town – the effort will be worth it!
How Much Does A BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk Subscription Cost?
BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk has several subscription tiers that vary with how many months you pay upfront:
- Monthly payments are about £13 or $18
- A 3-month term is about £26 or $37 (under $13 per month)
- A 12-month term is about £80 or $113 (under $10 per month)
The three and twelve-month terms are significantly discounted when compared to the single month cost.
Ensuring Your Subscription Does Not Auto-Renew
When you purchase a subscription on the BritishNewspaperArchive website, it is automatically set to auto-renew when the period is over.
I give top marks to the site for making it easy to turn this off. I’d give higher marks if the option was turned off by default.
To ensure your subscription does not auto-renew, open your account page. The “auto-renew” checkbox is at the bottom of the page. Simply uncheck this box.
The picture below shows a truncated version of the page on the Personal Details tab.
Using BritishNewspaperArchive’s Free Trial
You can run free searches on the website and see the results list. The list shows you transcripts of small excerpts that matched your search.
But what if you want to view the full newspaper page and download a local copy? Is there a free trial with full access?
Some of the website’s competitors offer a free week’s trial with full access. The BritishNewsArchive website is different.
When you register for a free account on the site, you can view and download three newspaper pages from your searches for free.
Once you use up your three free pages, you will have to pay for one of the subscription levels
No, three pages isn’t a lot. But a big plus point is that you don’t need to provide a credit card when you register. You get these three free pages without providing any payment details.
So, no need to worry about forgetting to cancel a trial subscription and later realizing there is a 12-month charge on your credit card.
Free Access May Be Enough To Research A Small Family Branch
Suppose just one of your sixteen great-great-grandparents was born in the United Kingdom on a farm in a rural county.
You’ve combed through the search results but there’s only a handful of matches. Literally, five newspaper pages that you’d like to view and download.
But you only get three pages to download for free. Do you need to buy a month’s subscription? No, you don’t.
The British Newspaper Archive is one of the few subscription sites where you don’t have to provide payment details for a free trial period.
You do need to register with a genuine email (as you need to reply to confirm the email address). But there is nothing to stop you from registering with a different email address a second time.
That gives you six total free downloads. If that exhausts your research, then go for it!
In fact, you could keep acquiring new email addresses to research for free.
You just have to balance the hassle of hundreds of email addresses versus paying less than 10 or 13 bucks a month for one of the longer-term subscriptions.
How To Work Around A Drawback Of The Download Feature
If you’ve used other newspaper websites, then you’ve probably seen a “Clippings feature”. This allows you to highlight and download sections or single articles on a full newspaper page.
When you view the results of a search on the BritishNewspaperArchive, the interface will highlight the matches on the page.
However, when you download the image – you download the full page as an image. This is sometimes useful for context, but usually, it’s far more content than what you want.
The simple workaround is to use the built-in snipping feature of your Windows or Mac local computer.
Launch the snipping application and highlight the section yourself. Then you can save what you highlighted to your local machine.
On Windows, type “snip” into the search bar. You probably have two options: the older “Snipping Tool” or the newer “Snip & Sketch” application.
Free Sample Pages Aren’t Very Useful
When you have registered for free, you can also access some sample pages without payment.
I had to hunt around the site to find this feature. It may be elsewhere, but I could only find a link on the About page (who the heck goes there?)
If you open the About page from the top menu, you’ll find the “Free example pages” on the left-hand side.
I’m not sure if the example page changes from time to time, but it was from an 1838 issue of the Hereford Times when I was looking at it.
You can use all the display features to examine the sample page e.g. zoom in, pan left and right.
Unless your early 19th century ancestors were from Hereford, I doubt this sample is particularly interesting.
Instead, follow our sections on evaluating the available titles and running person searches.
Limited Customer Service
At the time of writing, the BritishNewspaperArchive offers email support through a contact form.
They aim to reply with up to a two-day turnaround. That is quite limited when compared to some other subscription services. There’s also no chat feature on the site.
The reason I look at customer service with subscription sites is to see how they will deal with cancellation issues.
Let’s say your 3-month term is coming to an end and you’re not sure how to cancel before the next payment kicks in. You’d be best off asking your support questions more than two days before the deadline.
But don’t worry – I’ve described how to cancel your subscription in the earlier section on how much a subscription costs.
Can You Get Unlimited Free Access To BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk?
I’ve discussed what parts of the archive are free in a previous section. Is there any way to get full and unlimited access for free?
If you are in the United Kingdom, many local libraries have access to the website via their terminals.
The British Library also has two reading rooms with free access – one in London and one near Leeds.
Internationally, larger municipal libraries may have access to the archives.
Online access with FamilySearch.org
There’s another limited option if you can’t visit a place with free access.
Note that these record collections are a small subset of the full archive.
Alternatives To BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk
The BritishNewspaperArchive website has the largest online collection of historical newspapers published within the United Kingdom.
If you’re looking for some alternative sites, check out our in-depth reviews of these paid subscription sites: