The BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk website has the largest online collection of UK newspaper archives in the world.
But who owns the website and subscription service? This article covers an interesting history behind the brand.
Who Owns BritishNewspaperArchive?
BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk is a newspaper archive owned by FindMyPast, which in turn is a subsidiary of Scottish publishing company D.C. Thomson.
The website was launched in 2011 as a collaboration with the British Library, which has exclusive legal access to newspapers throughout the UK.
A Quick History of FindMyPast
If you’re a genealogy enthusiast, then you’ve probably come across the FindMyPast websites which have a growing collection of genealogy record collections.
FindMyPast competes with Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, MyHeritage.com, and other free and commercial websites to provide services to people researching their family trees.
But its origins were more limited and focused on probate research e.g. chasing missing beneficiaries after the reading of wills.
Title Research Group
In 1965, a small group of genealogists and probate solicitors formed a company called the Title Research Group to provide services to law firms involved in estate administration.
A lot of their work involved combing through birth, marriage, and death records in British government offices.
The company was led by entrepreneur Tom Curran, whose son (also Tom) took over in the 1990s.
The company set out in 2001 to create a digital archive of the U.K. birth, marriage, and death records.
They launched a paid subscription website in 2003 with a domain name of 1837online.com (it’s no longer available).
Why did they name their website “1837online”? That was the year that started the recording of births, marriages, and deaths in England and Wales.
But the company expanded the collection to include census records of 1861. So, a name change was called for!
The website was rebranded and renamed FindMyPast.co.uk in 2006.
The focus of the website was on civil records as opposed to newspapers.
A new focus on newspapers would come the following year with the purchase of the website by newspaper publishing company – D.C. Thomson.
D.C. Thomson And Newspapers
I’m going to go back in time again to look at the current owners of FindMyPast. This time, history starts in Scotland in the late 19th century.
William Thomson was in the shipping business through the 19th century. His family firm bought Scottish newspaper, the Dundee Courier, in 1886.
William and his wife Margaret Couper had several sons who joined the business. David Couper Thomson (D.C.) incorporated a newspaper publishing company in 1905 named D.C. Thomson.
Feuding with Winston Churchill
David Couper was a colorful character who engaged in a long-running feud with a young Winston Churchill. He used his newspapers to urge readers to vote against Churchill who was defeated in the 1920s elections in Scotland.
Thomson barred mention of Churchill’s name from his newspapers. Of course, this policy became impossible through World War II.
Broadening the base
D.C.’s nephew Harold led the expansion of D.C. Thomson into comics.
My older Irish and U.K. readers will remember this childhood stalwart:
D.C. Thomson Joins Forces With The British Library
D.C. Thomson had a technology subsidiary named Brightsolid, also based in Scotland.
In the late 2000s, Brightsolid started working with the British Library on a project to digitize their massive newspaper archives.
They launched the first version of the online archive in 2011 with digital copies of about 200 newspapers from the 18th and 19th centuries.
This was just a fraction of the British Library collection, but work continued at a fast pace to digitize more and more.
I think it’s now time to touch upon the history of the British Library before the story of the archive continues.
A Very Brief History Of The British Library
The British Library is now the national library of the United Kingdom, but it was only created as a separate entity in 1972.
Before this, it was part of the British Museum which was established in 1753.
Why does the British Library have such a massive collection of newspapers? Because since 1869, a copy of every newspaper published in Britain and Ireland must be sent to the British Library.
This continued into Irish law after the separation of the jurisdictions.
The Library’s archives have close to a full and complete collection of all British and Irish newspapers since 1840.
The commercial license with D.C. Thomson involves paid subscription access to the digital content. But the newspaper collection is freely available to the general public through visiting the reading rooms in London.
Now, let me jump forward to pick up the narrative after the launch of the online archive in 2011.
FindMyPast.co.uk. And BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk.
When D.C. Thomson’s tech subsidiary was working on the newspaper archive, D.C. Thomson had purchased the FindMyPast website(s).
In 2013, D.C. Thomson split their subsidiary in two. One part focused on technology (Brightside Online Technology), and the other part focused on the genealogy market.
The genealogy division was first rebranded as D.C. Family History. The company then went with the name of the website and completely branded this line of their business as FindMyPast.
The two websites both have access to the digitized newspaper collection that is part of this collaboration.
You may be wondering if one website or subscription is better than the other if you are exclusively interested in access to historic newspapers.
Check out our in-depth BritishNewspaperArchive review where I look in detail at the newspaper site.