Old newpapers can take us back in time to provide historical and social background to the world of our ancestors. In an ideal online world for family historians, entire newspapers would be accessible as digitised images. There would be a searchable index and of course, all entirely free. Then the internet would truly be the means to access a world wide library at your fingertips. This may come true in the future as there are some promising examples both in Australia and further afield.
Australian Periodical Publications 1840-1845
This is a digital library created by the Australian Cooperative Digitisation Project. A list of about 70 titles of early Australian publications can be browsed. Newspapers include The Adelaide Independent and Cabinet of Amusement 1841, The Geelong Advertiser 1840-1845 and The Melbourne Times 1842-1843. There is a subject list but the material is not fully indexed.
The Argus Index 1870-1879
The aim of this project is to match the best service in the world which is available to researchers in the United Kingdom and the United States where they can consult indexes to The Times and the New York Times that cover the whole period of their 200 years of publication.
On this site we are told that, "Australia lacks a continuous index to any of its quality newspapers. Researchers in Australia spend many hours searching for material that an index can guide them to in seconds. The Argus, published in Melbourne from 1846-1957, was the quality newspaper of record in the nineteenth and first part of the twentieth century It is the primary resource for data on 19th century Australia and is widely recognised as the general Australian newspaper of record for this period. In size, range of news, accuracy and objectivity of reporting and its literary content, the Argus is without peer."
It has taken two years to complete the index for just one decade. By 2010 it is hoped that the remaining twelve years will be done and perhaps by that time the paper itself may have been digitised so that users of the index will have online access to the articles that the index has identified.
The Times (London) 1785-1985 Digital Archive
This is the world's largest newspaper archive available on the internet. It contains full-text and full-image articles as published for 200 years in PDF files, home delivered to your computer, but at a cost. Samples can be viewed and requests can be made for a free trial.
Richard Heaton's Local Newspaper Master Index
This free site has approximately 600 transcripts from a list of over 80 titles of newspapers, mostly from Southern England but also from other parts of the United Kingdom. In addition there is a searchable index of the transcripts consisting of over 40 000 names from various dates between 1725 to 1870.
Among the 100 or so 'taster' samples of extracts are gems such as the selling of a wife for one shilling in 1872 and a descriptive paragraph of an 1819 cricket match between married and single females on Marchwood Marsh in Hampshire witnessed by 2000 spectators.
The availability of more digitised archival newspapers would be a big help to researchers.
To my knowledge there are no newspaper archives online in the Ballarat area. However, there is one good local example of a useful surname index to a newspaper with references to look up the item on microfilm at local or state libraries.
Creswick & Clunes Advertiser Index 1859-1865 by Sue O'Neill
This index gives page and column references as well as clues to the nature of the subject matter, such as Unclaimed Letter, Police Court, School Examination, Land Grant, Advertisement, etc.
West Wimmera Mail & Natimuk & Goroke Advertiser 1887-1920
This is a collection of newspaper extracts from Goroke, Natimuk and the surrounding area supplied by Daryl Crabtree and John Martin. It has no surname index but makes for interesting browsing.
The Ryerson Index to Contemporary Death Notices
This newpaper index named for Joyce Ryerson of the Sydney Dead Persons Society is normally updated weekly and has been at RootsWeb since 2002. It contains well over a million entries for predominantly NSW & ACT (100 publications) but there are many tens of thousands of death and funeral notices for the last few years up to 2006 from other Australian newspapers, Qld (14), Vic (5) and SA (4).
Would anyone like to become the Ballarat coordinator?
RootsWeb Australian and New Zealand Records Databases
This collection of contributed databases contains 714 395 records with 71 605 distinct surnames. These cannot be browsed, they can only be searched by surname and given name (optional). The search can be limited to a state or territory and in the choice of eight different types of records you can select Newspaper Indexes. Of course this will be absolutely random but you might be lucky.
Unfortunately Jenny Fawcett's very useful free online indexes website, Genseek, is down until sometime later this year.
Jennifer Burrell: firstname.lastname@example.org