Once you’ve pieced together the bones of your research (birth, marriage, death and census records), newspapers archives are a great place to look at to get to know your ancestors that little bit better. Of course, some people may never appear in a newspaper, apart from maybe their death notice, but others (such as my “drunk & riotous” ancestor) may appear quite frequently.
My first jaunt into using newspapers for family history research was over a decade ago, using the microfilm machines at Ludlow Library. Ah yes, the good old days of having to scroll through a reel of film, only to discover the article you hope will be there is at the end of the reel. Of course, once you’ve (hopefully) found the article, you then have to rewind the microfilm back onto the reel and all by hand! As fun as that was, I much prefer today’s technology of being able to search online from the comfort of my own home.
Today, I thought I would share with you a little about my 3 x great grandfather which I discovered through searching newspaper archives (offline & online)…
Christmas 1899 was not a happy time for the Middleton family of Burfield, Clun, Shropshire. On the evening of Friday, 8th December 1899, John Middleton was drunk in charge of a cart, it wasn’t the first time, but it was most certainly the last.
I’ve been told that John Middleton was a serious drinker (he’s not the first I’ve found in the family!). After a drinking session (perhaps flush with cash after selling animals at the market), the cart would be hitched up to the horse, John helped up onto the cart, the reins strapped to his hands/arms and he would be sent on his way home (the horse knowing the way having travelled it so many times).
A few years previous to the fateful evening… On 31st December 1894, John was found drunk in charge of his horse and fined 8 shillings including costs at the Petty Sessions the following month in Purslow. Did he learn his lesson? Apparently not!
On that cold December evening in 1899, John Middleton (aged 63) was found dead on the road just a mile from his home, the reins still wrapped around his arm and the horse across the lane. He had been sitting on the side of the spring cart but had evidently fallen off the side of the cart, receiving head injuries. Had he fallen asleep in a drunk stupor (quite likely) and fell or did something else cause him to fall? The jury at his inquest returned a verdict of “Accidental Death”. Just before Christmas, the Middleton family was left without a husband and father.
Other instances of John Middleton appearing in newspapers include a report of a Martha Edwards stealing John’s axe in February 1872, and he is briefly mentioned in the report about his son George’s golden wedding anniversary in January 1944 (just over 44 years after he’d died!).
John’s wife Matilda survived him and died in 1924, aged 81 years. Their gravestone, a beautiful Celtic cross, stands proud in the churchyard of St George’s Church, Clun. The inscription reads:
In Loving Memory
who died December 8th 1899
aged 63 years
Until the day break and the shadows flee away.
Also of Matilda his wife
Who died Jan 14th 1924
aged 81 years
Once again, newspaper archives have proved helpful. I love the glimpse into times gone by that they provide. More and more newspapers are being digitised and indexed all the time, so it’s worth going back and searching again if you haven’t found anything previously.