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
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. From about the 1840s the number of both obituaries and marriage announcements rose sharply; unfortunately, these events are by then usually more easily traceable in parish or civil records. In the twentieth century the newspaper death notice became an obligatory part of Irish life, often recording age, extended family and place of death. The online availability of complete runs of all three national dailies-the Irish Times, Irish Press and Irish Independent-has made these death notices a very significant element in any search for living relatives in Ireland.
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 as follows:
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, because much of the evidence was reported verbatim and may
provide vital clues for further research. The full-text searches available in the
online archives provide ways to retrieve these reports relatively easily. These
searches also expand the range of individuals for whom newspaper research may
be relevant. Many reports of court cases during the Land War of the 1870s and 80s
supply long lists of tenants involved in opposing evictions, for instance.