There are two principal formats in which useful information appears in early newspapers: biographical notices and, in the earliest publications, advertisements. Up to the 1850s the former consist largely of marriage announcements and obituaries; birth announcements tend to be sparse, to relate only to the wealthiest classes and often to give no more than the father's name, taking the form 'on the 12th, the lady of George Gratton Esq., of a son'. After the middle of the nineteenth century the number of birth notices rises sharply, but they remain relatively uninformative.
Marriage announcements contain a much broader range of information, from the bare minimum of the names of the two parties to comprehensive accounts of the addresses, occupations and fathers' names. In the majority of cases the name of the bride's father and his address are supplied, in a form such as 'married on Tuesday last, Michael Thomson Esq. to Miss Neville, eldest daughter of James Neville of Bandon Esq.' For many eighteenth-century marriages a newspaper announcement may be the only surviving record, particularly where the relevant Church of Ireland register has not survived.
Obituaries are by far the most numerous newspaper announcements, and they cover a much broader social spectrum than either births or marriages. Again, the kind of information given can vary widely, from the barest 'died at Tullamore, Mr. Michael Cusack' to the most elaborate, giving occupation, exact age and family relationships: 'died at the house of her uncle Mr. Patrick Swan in George's St. in the 35th year of her age, Mrs. Burgess, relict of Henry Burgess Esq., late of Limerick.' This amount of information is rare, however: most announcements confine themselves to name, address, occupation and place of death. Because of the paucity of Catholic burial records, newspaper obituaries are the most comprehensive surviving records of the deaths of the majority of the Catholic middle classes.
Advertisements, especially in the early newspapers, were more often paid announcements than true advertisements in the modern sense, and an extraordinary variety of information can be gleaned from them. The most useful types are:
(i) Elopements: A husband would announce that his wife had absconded and disclaim all responsibility for any debts she might contract. Usually his address and her maiden name are given.
(ii) Business announcements: The most useful are those that record the place and nature of the business, a change of address or ownership for the business or the succession of a son to a business after his father's death.
(iii) Bankruptcies: These generally request creditors to gather at a specified time and place, and they can be useful in narrowing the focus of a search for relevant transactions in the Registry of Deeds.
As well as their advertisements and biographical notices, of course, newspapers naturally reported the news of the day, concentrating on the details of court cases with particular relish. For an ancestor who was a convict these hold great interest, and may be the only surviving record of the trial.
Apart from reports of trials, the genealogical information to be gleaned from early newspapers relates to well-defined social groups. Firstly, the doings of the nobility were of general interest, and their births, marriages and deaths are extensively covered. Next to be covered are the merchant and professional classes of the towns in which the newspapers were published. These would include barristers and solicitors, doctors, masters of schools, military officers and clergy, together with the more prosperous business people. It should be remembered that, from about the 1770s, this would include the growing Catholic merchant class. Next are the farming gentry from the surrounding areas. After them come the less well-off traders, traceable largely through advertisements. Finally, the provincial papers also cover the inhabitants of neighbouring towns in these same classes, albeit sparsely at times. No information is to be found concerning anyone at or below middling farmer level--the great bulk of the population, in other words.
Dates and areas
The earliest Irish newspapers were published in Dublin at the end of the seventeenth century. However, it was not until the middle of the eighteenth century that they became widespread and began to carry information of genealogical value. The period of their prime usefulness is from about this time to about the third quarter of the nineteenth century, when other sources became more accessible and thorough. Obviously, not all parts of the country were equally well served, particularly at the beginning of this period. Publications were concentrated in urbanised areas where a literate public could afford them. The main regions are as follows:
(i) Dublin: The most important eighteenth-century publications were the Dublin Evening Post, begun in 1719, Faulkner's Dublin Journal (1725), The Freeman's Journal (1763) and the Dublin Hibernian Journal (1771). As well as carrying plentiful marriage and obituary notices relating to Dublin and surrounding areas from about the middle of the century, these papers also reproduced notices that had first appeared in provincial papers--something that should be kept in mind in cases where the original local newspapers have not survived. From the early nineteenth century there was a great proliferation of publications; unfortunately, the custom of publishing family notices fell into disuse in the first decades of the century and did not resume until well into the 1820s. The Freeman's Journal is searchable from 1763 on www.irishnewsarchive.com. There appear to be significant gaps, as there are in the British Newspaper Archive version.
(ii) Cork: After Dublin, Cork was the area best served by newspapers, with many publications following the lead of the Corke Journal, which began in 1753. As well as publishing notices relating specifically to Cork city and county, these papers also carried much of interest for other Munster counties, notably Co. Kerry. Like the Dublin papers, it republished notices relating to Munster that had originally appeared in other publications. An index exists to newspaper biographical notices relating to Cos. Cork and Kerry between 1756 and 1827, details of which will be found below.
(iii) Limerick and Clare: There was a great deal of overlap between the earliest Clare newspapers-- The Clare Journal from 1787 and The Ennis Chronicle from 1788--and those of Limerick, where the first publications were The Munster Journal (1749) and The Limerick Chronicle. Both groups of papers also had extensive coverage of Co. Tipperary, and in the case of the Limerick publications this coverage also extended to Cos. Kerry and Galway. The Molony series of manuscripts in the Genealogical Office (see Chapter 7 and johngrenham.com/browse) includes extensive abstracts from the Clare papers. Details of a more accessible and far-ranging set of abstracts will be found below. Obituaries and funeral notices from the Limerick Chronicle are transcribed in the 'Local studies' section of the Limerick City Library website, www.limerickcity.ie/library/localstudies/.
(iv) Carlow and Kilkenny: This area was covered by a single publication, Finn's Leinster Journal, which began in 1768. Although the advertisements are useful, early biographical notices are sparse. The earliest have been published in The Irish Genealogist (1987/8). A full-text search from 1792 - 1828 is available at www.irishnewsarchive.com.
(v) Waterford: The earliest newspapers here were The Waterford Chronicle (1770), The Waterford Herald (1791) and The Waterford Mirror (1804). Few of the earliest issues appear to have survived. For surviving issues before 1800 The Irish Genealogist has published the biographical notices (1974 and 1976-80, inclusive). Notices to 1821 are included with the abstracts for Cos. Clare and Limerick. Images only for The Waterford Chronicle are online from 1811 at www.waterfordcouncil.ie/departments/library/.
(vi) Belfast and Ulster: The most important newspaper in this area is The News Letter (Belfast), which began publication in 1737. It had a wider geographical range than any of the Dublin papers, covering virtually all of east Ulster. Biographical material to 1800 is indexed at www.ucs.louisiana.edu/bnl. A full-text search from 1738 to the present, with gaps 1895 - 1912 and 1950 - 2013 is available at www.irishnewsarchive.com. Outside Belfast, the most significant publications were The Londonderry Journal, from 1772, which also covered a good area of Cos. Donegal and Tyrone, and The Newry Journal and Strabane Journal, of which very few, if any, early issues survive.