Wednesday 21 March 2012
Tuesday's tip - using the London Gazette
The London Gazette is a useful (and free!) online resource that is popular with family historians. It is often used by people looking for gallantry awards and for bankruptcies. There is an awful lot more to it than that, though, and I am still discovering new things in it. It is the oldest British newspaper that is still being published, first appearing in 1665. The site has a page giving a brief history, which includes a link to a much longer article that you can download as a Word document.
Before it went online it was widely available on microfilm, and there were printed indexes to help you find what you wanted. The online version is completely searchable by keyword, or by the date and page number found in the indexes. Many experienced researchers found the online version unsatisfactory, and still preferred to use the printed indexes and microfilm. This is understandable, because the OCR (optical character recognition) technology produces results of variable quality. But t would be a mistake to dismiss the online version out of hand, because there is a solution.
Some time ago I gave a public talk at The National Archives called The London Gazette: not just the brave and the bankrupt, which was recorded and you can listen to the podcast. I pointed out the limitations of the OCR, and recommended using the printed indexes to find the date and page number for an entry, then using this to locate the page in the online version. This will usually give a much better quality image than the films, some of which are pretty ropey, after years of wear and tear.
The good news is that since I gave the talk in 2010 all of the available printed indexes have been scanned and added to the site as PDF files. They start in 1829, so you are still on your own before that, but the later 19th century and 20th century volumes are the most poular periods. You can find out more on the Indexes page. So now you have the best of both worlds. Enjoy.