Friday, 28 November 2014

British Newspaper Archive's 3rd anniversary

The British Newspaper Archive at celebrates three years online on Saturday November 29th 2014. Digitising content from the British Library's extensive newspapers collection and making it keyword searchable is its ambition, and to date it now has some 301 titles represented online from across Britain and Ireland, with plenty more to come. Content from the project is also available via its sister sites FindmyPast ( and Genes Reunited ( The digitisation project is planned to last for some ten years, so it is almost a third of the way through its projected aims. The site has provided a write up on its story so far at

So how does it measure up? I must admit to having a bit of a love-hate relationship with the site. Whilst it is undoubtedly one of the most useful resources online for family history research - or at least, will be - its information in informing users as to what is actually available is fairly appalling. For each newspaper title available, the site will only tell you what the planned year range will be with regards to its availability once it has been completed, not what is actually online at present. So for example, if we have a mythical title - say the Daily Shug - the site might tell you in its listings that it is the "Daily Shug 1835-1950". What it won't tell you is that at the present time, of that 1835-1950 coverage, there might only be coverage from 1842-1848 available at present. This means that when doing a search, you have absolutely no idea how complete your enquiry is - you may think you are searching complete coverage, when in fact you are only accessing part of it. I also find the way that it uploads new content deeply frustrating - a few years of this title here, a year or two of that one there - rather than taking a title and just going through it all in one go. There may be reasons in some cases as to why that may be, but the lack of any information about when a title's digitisation is to be resumed is just not available. It's frustrating as hell.

It is for these reason that I only occasionally dabble into it for personal research, as I would much rather wait until the collections I am interested in are more complete, than constantly have to keep wasting time searching the same databases over and over again. Nevertheless, newspapers are the great resource waiting to be tapped into, so the fact that the project is happening is certainly a godsend for family historians (particularly those a little more patient and forgiving than myself!).

For more information on how to access British and Irish newspapers both online and offline in archives across the two islands, my guide British and Irish Newspapers provides some useful guidance, and can be purchased from vendors in the UK, Canada and Australia - for full details please see my books section at


Stuck for a Christmas gift?! I have a series of genealogy books available in the UK, Australia and Canada, on Scottish, Irish and British based subject areas. Further details at Santa approves!


  1. Using the search engine is a bit frustrating, although it seems to have improved recently.
    I agree with your comment about the site appearing to offer more than it delivers, but this is true of Ancestry and Findmypast as well.
    Users should be aware that there is a lot of duplication. This is not BNA's faulty because newspapers constantly picked up the same stories, which can be tedious to plough through, but does mean that if the you are looking for hasn't been copied you may be able to find the story anyway.
    Even so this is a key genealogical resource which every family and local historian should use.

  2. A couple of years ago I noticed a gap in the 'actual' coverage for the Hull Daily Mail. When I asked them when it would be filled I was sent an answer to the effect that it would happen at some time in the future (no estimate of time was given). Similarly with the parent website at Find My Past I have suggested that they keep people informed of the progress of new record digitisation as a means of a) informing interested customers b) keeping customer loyalty. The reply I received was to the effect that such matters are commercial in confidence. They totally missed the point and this is what is happening with the British Newspaper Archive. The only glimmer of hope was earlier this year when Find My Past had upset its customers with a badly planned website change, but we are now getting back to the usual pattern. They (and most other online Genealogy companies) need to wake up and understand that their customers are interested and committed. Therefore many would feel more loyalty to these providers if they treated them not just as customers, but valued partners.

  3. It is a wonderful resource but the implication by BNA/FMP that the coverage is significantly more than the actuality is disingenuous and very misleading.

    Following Chris's remarks I digged deeper.

    For example, on BNA according to this page:
    The Falkirk Herald has coverage 1845 - 1918 (and it was these dates yesterday)

    Yet in the last 48 hours according to this page:
    BNA have added the years 1875 and 1885. Just those two years.

    By looking at the latest additions page you can see the extent to which they are adding single years or smaller groups of years to the overall index.

    I do not understand BNA's logic for doing it this way as it does not help the researcher and is potentially very misleading.

    A brilliant resource spoiled considerably by implementation that is less than competent and where a company appears not to have its customers at the forefront of its mind.

  4. I took this matter up with the BNA on Twitter and to precis the conversation, I asked why this situation was the case.

    Their reply: ""Hi Len, the titles page shows the earliest year and latest year we have online for each title. We add years as soon as digitisation is complete as we feel this is more useful for customers than holding back an entire title. We’re working on a way to highlight current coverage gaps as we realise this can be frustrating. Thanks for flagging it, Len. "

    I suggested they add a line to their titles page explaining the situation in the interim. Their reply: "Great idea, Len. We'll pass your suggestion on to our technical team."

    No idea why they have not done this from the start. I hope they surprise me by at least adding some explanatory text soon but I shall not be holding my breath.

  5. Thanks Len. If I was a cynic, I would say that putting the first year and the last year up as an apparent range would suggest having more online than is actually there. But of course, I would only suggest that if I was a cynic....

    1. If I too were a cynic I would agree wholeheartedly :)