More digitised Welsh Newspapers freely available

For the first time since June last year, the National Library of Wales has added a significant tranche of newly digitised newspaper titles to the project website.

Several of these are of value to researchers interested in the Saundersfoot area. Firstly two regional newspapers, the Carmarthen Journal and The Welshman are now available for the first time as well as the short-lived Principality.

Secondly, newspapers digitised for the Library’s First World War project are now included on this site as well, making our life much easier. For Pembrokeshire this covers the Haverfordwest & Milford Haven Telegraph (HMHT) from 1914-19.

A status report provided by the National Library showing what newspapers and editions are currently provided with notes about planned additions is available here. This shows that there’s more to come in 2014 with the Tenby Observer and earlier editions of the HMHT being of particular interest.

And it’s all still available free of charge.

Researching the First World War using new digital content

On Thursday 28th November 2013, the Welsh Government Minister for Culture and Sport launched “The Welsh Experience of the First World War” website. This rather passed me by so I am grateful to a post on the Rootsweb forum for the news.

The website address is which is where you’ll find a brief description of the objective of the project. A useful blog accompanies the site and this includes a full list of the primary sources that will eventually be published on the site. Whether you have local and/or family history interests for the First World War period, this site should prove a good resource.

I say ‘should’. Currently the technology for viewing on-line content is flaky but, with the excellent pedigree of the Welsh Newspapers site behind it, this should only be a temporary inconvenience.

As ever, we want more digital material. While the Haverfordwest & Milford Haven Telegraph has been digitised, the two papers local to the Saundersfoot area, the Tenby Observer and the Narberth Weekly, have not. A quick search of the Telegraph’s content suggests that its coverage of Saundersfoot events and people is limited. For example, we’ll miss the in-depth reporting of the Narberth Rural Military Tribunal, a key feature of the Narberth Weekly.

Putting this to one side, we have much to be thankful for especially as access is free.

Updates to Two Digital Collections

Good news for Pembrokeshire historians: there have been two significant additions in the last week to the amount of digital material available on the web.

Firstly, with the project to digitise its hard-copy newspaper collections still in full flow, the National Library of Wales (NLW) has added copies of six newspapers to the site in the last couple of days. From a local perspective, the most important of these is The Cambrian, a regional newspaper that was first published in 1804. This pre-dates the first county newspaper, the Pembrokeshire Herald, already on the NLW site, by 40 years. Access to this excellent site is free.

Secondly, have posted a note on their site to confirm they have recently added 1.2 million new parish records to their Welsh collection. Unfortunately I can’t find any detailed information to tell us what is new but I have emailed the company asking for this. You need a subscription to view the transcripts or scans of these records.

UPDATE (2nd July 2013):

Please note that the online publication of the Cambrian on the Welsh Newspaper Archive site means that the Swansea Library ‘Cambrian Index Online’ which covers this newspaper is now largely superseded. It does still serve a key purpose. The NLW’s collection does not include a full run of the Cambrian so the Index, while itself incomplete, may refer you to articles which have not been digitised but which you can access elsewhere (e.g. the British Library).

An early Ordnance Survey map of the Saundersfoot area

One of the joys of researching history is serendipitously finding new sources of information. I only recently came across the British Library’s Online Gallery and, in particular, its collection of early Ordnance Survey (OS) preliminary plans. The Library has digitised the surviving 351 drawings made between 1780 and 1840 and these are available to view online for free.

Catalogued under ‘Tenby’, the plan of our area is one of them.  It often took several years for these drafts to be published. For example, the Tenby plan was surveyed in 1809 but not published for at least another ten years. The final version, part of what is known as the ‘Old Series’, is available through Cassini Publishing.

Click here to view the plan.

With the “Interactive zoomable image” option, you can look in detail at the plan although there’s no option to download it.

Bearing in mind that our area of Pembrokeshire is surprisingly well covered by late 18th and 19th century estate plans, how useful is this map? I think it is, if only for the fact that it is the first one to allow detailed study of the dispersed settlement pattern. There are problems of course. Inaccurate placename spellings  (e.g. compare the wonderfully phonetic spellings for today’s Coppet Hall and Errox Hill) suggest worrying inaccuracies. Moreover, historians of the coal industry would no doubt wish for more information about the local pits. We know from other sources that several were in operation around 1809 but you can’t tell this from the draft. In fact the location of the steam engine on Kingsmoor, recently installed, provides the only indication that there was any industry in the area at all.

National Library of Wales Newspaper Archive now available

The National Library of Wales has just launched its online newspaper archive under the branding of ‘Welsh Newspapers Online’.  Very good it is too – even if it is still in ‘beta’.

For our area two newspapers have been included at this initial stage:

  1. Pembrokeshire Herald, 1844 – 1910
  2. Potters Electric News, 1859 – 1868.

The Library has plans to post more material during 2013.

Click here to read more about this digitisation project and to see a list of the newspapers which are now available and others to be added in due course.

Click here to search the archive.

Have fun!

PS. It’s free!

Yet More Digital Material Published – Land Tax 1798

We live in interesting times… has today made the 1798 Land Tax Redemption Schedules available to search and view on their web site. As ever you will need to have the appropriate subscription to view these. Ancestry’s introduction to this set of Land Tax records provides little context for this collection so here’s an extract from the ‘Oxford Companion to Local & Family History’:

“…in 1698 the direct poundage rate was replaced by a system of quotas at county, hundred, and parish or township level. During the 18th century the tax evolved into a true land tax, assessed on land, buildings, and various forms of rents. Relatively few records survive before 1780, but from that date until the Parliamentary Reform Act of 1832 annual copies or ‘duplicates’ of the assessments owed by each owner of real property and by each of his tenants were lodged at the Quarter Sessions in order to establish a qualification for the vote at county elections. These duplicates survive in bulk amongst the quarter sessions papers at county record offices. The only return that covers almost all of England and Wales is that of 1798, kept in 121 volumes at the National Archives in class IR 23.”

Academic historians have for many years mused about the usefulness of Land Tax returns. However, I have found them very useful for tracing the tenure of the many small-holdings in the Saundersfoot area using the near-complete run for the 1786-1831 period held at the Pembrokeshire Record Office.

From my experience, there are three main benefits for researchers in this new publication.

Firstly, in its marketing, Ancestry is promoting this new material as ‘almost a mini-census’. In general there is a touch of hype to this but, for the Saundersfoot area, it is not far wrong. Many of our collier and artisan ancestors were granted leases to small-holdings of around one to ten acres or so. What is interesting and unusual is that their landlords granted these on extended terms, for example the survivor of three named lives. The reason why large landowners were keen on this is that such leases attracted voting rights for the tenants and, in the days of public polling, they assumed that these tenants, in consideration for (apparent) improved security of tenure, would vote according to their wishes. As a result, more colliers in our area are recorded in the Land Tax returns then you’d expect to find for other areas where such leases were uncommon.

The second benefit is that the schedules list not only the lessees’ names but also that of the landowner (or the ‘proprietor’ as Ancestry shows it as). Finding this name acts as a portal into landowners’ estate collections where rentals and leases can be valuable sources of material. For our area, much has survived and the collections for, in particular, the Picton Castle estate (mostly at the National Library of Wales – NLW) and the Gogerddan estate (again held at NLW) are real gems in providing further material for researchers.

Lastly, for those of us fortunate to have landowners in our trees, this publication gives a quick and efficient view of the land they owned across wide areas and also county boundaries. For example, although I am not linked in any way to them, in my research into the Child family of Begelly House I was unaware before today just how much land they owned in Carmarthenshire.

While there’s much of benefit, I do have the usual gripes about the standard of transcription that Ancestry has achieved. It is lousy. For example, St Issells has been transcribed throughout as ‘Saint Glsels’ – at least consistently. ‘Begelly’ thankfully is Begelly. But don’t get me started on the wierd transcriptions of many of the surnames!

NLW Newspaper Digitisation Project – update

Back in October 2010 I posted a note about the future of the National Library’s project to digitise and publish on-line its newspaper collection. Well, the future is almost with us. NLW has posted an update on its blog today…expect a summer baby.

This is good news of course seeing that the albeit wonderful British Library/Findmypast project to digitise so much of the British Library’s huge collection contains as yet little Welsh material and none at all for our area.

My comments about the NLW project seventeen months ago still remain: their site will be free to use so no payment required BUT the NLW project is limited to only newspapers it is has original copies of. So, we will be to access a complete run of the Pembrokeshire Herald but little of the various late 19th century Tenby newspapers, many of which were so gossipy.

I wonder whether the British Library will arrange for the papers that it has copies of that NLW doesn’t have to be digitised under the Findmypast contract. Yes, we will need to pay for access but at least they will cover the gaps. I will do some digging.

Roll on summer!