While a lot of things have changed over time, some things change very little. Much as today, in bygone days you could read all about what was going on by picking up the Newspapers.
As such Newspapers are a great resource for family history. Birth, Marriage and Death announcements, court proceedings, news stories, and all the usual scandals and gossip can be found in old Newspapers. In fact, you can guarantee that when you are looking for something, you will come across wonderful accounts of murders and executions. And aside from being devilishly distracting, they give you a very good idea of contemporary society.
My local library in Portsmouth has copies of the Hampshire Telegraph from the 18th Century until the 1970′s, and the Evening News from its beginning until the present day, all on microfilm. Better still, these have been indexed by subject in a card index, so if you are looking for a particular person, road, business or event, you can go straight to it rather than sift through thousands of copies.
Further afield, the Times can be searched online, at timesonline. You can search for free, but to access the full articles you need to pay a fee. Also, some libraries have Palmers index to the times, which can also be accessed online.
On a slightly more official level, the official Government Newspapers, including the London Gazette, can also be accessed online here, completely free. These contain details of armed forces promotions, official announcements and awards and honours.
Finally, the British Library Newspaper Archive have made 49 local and national newspapers, from between 1800 and 1900, searchable online here. You can search for free, but need to pay to download any articles.
For more about the British Library’s collection of Newspapers, click here.
You never quite know what you are going to find. For example, if one of your ancestors had a business, you may find an advert placed by them. And even if you don’t find anything specifically about them, you can use Newspapers to give you a very good idea about what was going on at the time, what society was like and what public opinion was like. Try to think in bigger terms than just names and dates, but people, times and events.