Welsh newspapers for free
This is another piece about the value of online newspaper archives from Norman Madden of the Kenilworth Family History Group. This time however the resources are Welsh and FREE.
Newspapers as a source for family history
In December 2014, Richard Ratcliffe spoke to The Kenilworth Family History Society about how useful newspapers are for family historians. I should like here to mention one particular online resource which is available free.
My Madden family history has been centred on the Monmouthshire town of Abergavenny, where the family has lived since the late 1870s at least. The family originated in County Cork, Ireland, and great-great-grandfather Jeremiah seems to have emigrated and settled in the Forest of Dean, but soon the family was moving about in Monmouthshire until Jeremiah’s son, also Jeremiah, came to live in Abergavenny in the late 1870s and that’s where the family stayed until my own generation (born in 1940s and 1950s) spread more widely, largely owing to education and employment opportunities elsewhere, even Australia in one case.
Because the Maddens were poor – renting rooms in ‘courts’, working as labourers or tinkers, etc. – they do not often appear in the local newspaper, The Abergavenny Chronicle, in articles about council meetings or elections, obituaries, or letters to the paper. No, my family was more likely to appear in court reports for drunkenness, unruly behaviour, or poaching, though great-grandfather Jeremiah (called Jerry) did occasionally have small ads for his trades as umbrella mender, knife grinder, china riveter, and cane furniture repairer.
Welsh Newspapers Online
I have made a couple of trips to Gwent County Records (now Monmouthshire) to consult the bound copies of the Chronicle but it’s a lengthy process ordering up the correct volume and searching through it. So I was delighted when I came across an online resource created by the National Library of Wales called ‘Welsh Newspapers Online’ on which can be found whole issues of local newspapers from Wales.
There are dozens of local papers represented, mostly weekly papers, and some printed in Welsh, of course. For each title a range of years is covered (some titles were very short-lived) and you can focus on a specific date. For the Abergavenny Chronicle the years available are 1909 – 1919, which suited me perfectly as I was researching my family’s involvement in WW1.
There is a search facility which, for example, enables you to find all references to your family name. It is worth being flexible here – I put in the Madden name without specifying any particular newspapers and found items about my family in papers published in Cardiff, Newport and Pontypool, much to my surprise.
Local weekly papers
Local weekly papers in the 19th and early 20th century might actually contain relatively little local news. There were pages of advertisements, often of livestock sales and markets in a town like Abergavenny, as well as general retail ads. There were also several pages of national and international news, and items such as serialised fiction, pieces on fashion or comments on issues of the day, and so on, all apparently copied from other papers (a kind of syndicated publication, I suppose).In the issues I was looking at there were inevitably many pieces about the war. Of a typical 8 page issue, only 3 or 4 would be local. These would contain livestock market reports; council meetings; meetings of charities, Boards of Guardians, and other organisations; birth, marriage and death announcements (though my numerous and prolific family never appear – they couldn’t afford the fee, presumably); letters; sports stories; court reports; and special events such as concerts, public meetings, and so on.
Tracing the family
This online resource allowed me to trace my family through those ten years without having to travel and stay in the area while I painstakingly worked through the bound volumes of the newspaper for the relevant years. So I found out quickly how often great-grandfather Jeremiah appeared in court for various misdemeanours, and what a poor reputation Tudor Street had as the area where the town ‘roughs’ lived. Tudor Street, once a ‘slum’ area of poor lodgings, boarding houses, pubs and ale-houses which were all torn down when I was a young child, was where my family lived!
I found articles mentioning my grandfather and several of his brothers, all in the army, attending special occasions when on leave at which the Town Council presented wrist watches to soldiers as a mark of the town’s appreciation. One great-uncle was also publicly presented with his Military Medal at a Council function.
I also found that, after the war, the paper published over several consecutive issues a street-by-street Roll of Honour of all the Abergavenny fallen. Indeed, in one piece, the paper named William Madden as one of the dead, even though he was very much alive! Two Maddens had died, and eventually the Chronicle got the names right, but I can just imagine the feelings of the parents when they saw William listed.
I can honestly say that I would probably never have come across some of the material I eventually found without this wonderful online source. The ‘Search’ option opened up things I had not expected to find and would not have searched for otherwise in the actual paper copies. And it’s all FREE, unlike some other newspaper archive websites. So, if you have any family history in Wales, it would be worth your while having a look at this site.