Whilst writing a book on tracing ancestors in British India, I explored the character and actions of one of the most notorious Britons in India, Robert Clive (1725-1774).

Emma Jolly, in the article The Urban Genealogist on Holiday: The Clive Collection at Powis Castle, Wales

Emma Jolly writer, historian, genealogist
  1. Historic Newspapers

    Anyone who has spent hours poring over fragile, yellowing sheets in local archives or at Colindale knows how engrossing old newspapers can be. The popularity of the British Newspaper Archive, which recently celebrated its first year online, proves how keen many of us are to explore the past through the contemporary press. For family historians, enjoyment comes not just from seeing our ancestors’ names in print or learning about the worlds they inhabited, but in reading the very words they read. Depending on the nature of the publication, this can give us insight into popular opinion or into the mind of the establishment.

    Much as I enjoy using online newspaper databases, which I do at least once a week, I was delighted to receive a couple of old newspapers from Historic Newspapers at

    The pleasures of holding a full-size paper, feeling the thickness of the pages, and being able to judge just how tightly my ancestors had to squint to read the fine details of Mr. William Shadforth’s “Special” Heart and Nerve Tonic are rare, and something I miss in the digital experience.

    Although companies like Historic Newspapers market their papers for special occasions, such as anniversaries or significant birthdays, the possibility of choosing a specific title from a specific date can be useful for family historians. I have collections from local archives of photocopied newspaper columns featuring my ancestors: my great grandmother’s obituary in The Stage, the inquest into my great great grandfather’s death, and more recent cuttings of the achievements of close family members.

    Sometimes I’d like to keep the entire newspaper, to see my ancestors’ activities in the context of what was happening around them. This is possible with companies like Historic Newspapers, although it can be more expensive than visiting a local history centre and copying from a microfilm or scanner. Occasionally, the cost may be weighed against the issue that dedicates an entire page to an ancestor’s military bravery or a detailed obituary, and that features a death announcement and a letter on the event elsewhere. Given how easy it is for researchers and library users to find an article in The Times Digital Archive or the Daily Mirror online, it is not surprising that these titles are the most popular with Historic Newspapers’ customers.

    One of the papers I was sent was the Sunday Pictorial of 25 April 1926. With smallish, thick pages and heavily illustrated, this is markedly different from other newspapers of 1926. I chose this particular edition as I was keen to see how contemporary newspapers reported the F.A. Cup victory of Bolton Football Club – captained to a 1-0 victory by my great grandfather’s cousin, Joe Smith. As mentioned in the post on the National Football Museum, my grandmother claimed to have drunk out of the F.A. Cup when she was 15. On the back page of the Sunday Pictorial was a large picture of the Bolton player, David Jack, draining a draught from the very cup. And at the bottom of the page was a smiling Joe Smith, surrounded by helmeted police officers, carrying the cup to the Bolton dressing-room at Wembley Stadium.

    The FA Cup final took place on a Saturday and was reported the following day. Copies of Sunday newspapers are harder to find. Historic Newspapers holds fewer newspapers for Sunday than for the rest of the week, and they are consequently more expensive. There are lesser-known titles among the Sundays, however, like the Sunday Pictorial.

    My favourite article in this issue is titled, “Is Dancing Overdone To-day?” This feature by Clifford K. Wright on the dance craze of the period begins:

    Has dancing to-day become an obsession?

    Do we dance too much? One would

    imagine so from the frequent attacks to which

    this form of enjoyment is subjected.

    When at the conclusion of the Great War

    people welcomed dancing as one of the easiest

    avenues to forgetfulness it was pointed out

    that wars and social cataclysms like the French

    Revolution were frequently followed by some

    similar craze. It was though that this out-

    burst also would prove a mere craze and be

    short-lived. yet in 1926 we find that the cult

    of the dance is pursued by everyone with un-

    abated zest and enthusiasm,

    Wright ends with the defence:

    But most important of all are the mental re-

    actions produced by dancing. It is the ideal

    cure for a fit of the blues. Through it we can

    find an escape from the usual groove of our

    lives into a secret and magical world of our



    Historic Newspapers has the largest private archive of British newspapers in the world. The archive has been built over many years from various sources: initially from the newspaper group’s original archives as they moved out of Fleet Street in the 80s, and continues today, as virtually all the national Scottish and English newspaper titles send us their daily editions. Papers are also continually being sourced from libraries and other collections from all over the world. The newspapers are stored in leather binding, from which they are carefully removed when sold, and sent out in presentation boxes. The company will sell the last paper for a date, but have scanned leading titles in order that an original archive remains.

    Historic Newspapers is offering readers of this blog an exclusive 15% discount on anything on the site by using the code: 15TODAY.

  2. The National Football Museum

    Next month heralds the long-awaited launch of the English National Football Museum in Manchester. Opening on 6th July 2012, the Museum describes itself as a “world-class cultural attraction” in the perfect location, with football already bringing thousands of visitors to the city each year and being “very much part of Manchester’s DNA”.

    There will be plenty for current football fans to admire, from the shirt that referee Howard Webb wore in the 2010 World Cup final, to recent photographs in Stuart Roy Clarke’s Homes of Football exhibition. But it is the varied historical collections and extensive archive that give this Museum its significance. Amongst these are the collections of the UEFA Library, the Football Association, the Football League, the Littlewood Pools and the FIFA Collection. The last is apparently the finest single collection of football memorabilia, assembled by the late journalist and football fan, Harry Langton (1929-2000). There are also trophies, medals, caps and other memorabilia from two of the founders of the Football League, Bolton Wanderers and Preston North End.

    Perhaps the most interesting items for social and family historians are those of the People’s Collection. Comprised of over 6000 objects and ephemera donated by members of the public, the collection features magazines, trophies, player contracts, programmes, song sheets, cigarette cards, scarves, autograph books and tickets. The Museum welcomes enquiries from family historians and has a dedicated web page for genealogy research: I was particularly excited to note that the Museum is digitising some of the FA and Football League records in their collections and look forward to hearing more on this over the next year.

    I have a personal interest in football history as my great grandfather’s cousin, Joe Smith (1889-1971), was one of the best professional footballers of his generation. He is second only to the legendary Nat Lofthouse as Bolton’s top goalscorer, and his 38 goals in season 1920/21 remain a club record. I first heard about him as a child when my grandmother claimed that she drank out of the FA Cup after one Joe’s FA Cup wins in the 1920s (Bolton won in both 1923 and 1926). Grandma always swore that this was true, but I’d love to have proof. Perhaps it’s hiding somewhere in the Museum’s archive . . .


    Grandma in the 1920s

    Joe Smith signed for Bolton in 1908 when he was just 18, having begun his career as an amateur at his local team of Newcastle St Lukes. He was capped for England five times. After retiring as a player, he managed Blackpool FC, guiding them to a tight 4-3 win over his old club, Bolton, in the celebrated FA Cup final of 1953. This final is also known as the Matthews Final, in tribute to the outstanding performance of Stanley Matthews.


    Joe Smith

    Today, in this age of astronomical wages and accusations of clubs buying titles, my favourite Joe Smith anecdote centres on his early years. Joe’s father, Joseph (1856-1914) and his sister (my great great grandmother), Sarah, grew up in the industrial Black Country. Joseph went on to work in the hot and dangerous iron industry as a puddler, whilst his wife, Rosina, raised their three sons in a four-roomed house in Newcastle under Lyme. When my sons pester me to buy them aero dynamic balls or the latest kit, I remind them that their ancestor became a footballing legend by practising in the local streets, kicking rag balls made by his mother:

    I used to volley balls into the net from a few feet off the floor. I was deadly with them. And do you know how I developed that? When I was a junior, my mother used to make rag balls for my brother [Phillip Smith, also a professional footballer] and I. We couldn’t afford a real ball.
    We used to play against a wall, and kick from the street, about twenty yards out. Quite a few people used to watch us every time we went there. My mother could make a decent ‘ball’ with stockings, and fill it up with rags. We’d chuck it out of the hand, and you’d have to volley it before it dropped to the floor. We didn’t dribble with it. It was just for chucking out, just for shooting. That’s how I developed my goal-scoring.

    (as told the Blackpool FC’s chronicler, Robin Daniels).

    With thanks to my (and Joe Smith’s) cousins, Adrian Sherlock and Lynn Smith.

    The official website of the National Football Museum is and you can take part in the countdown to the opening at

    Other useful websites for researching football ancestors are:

    Scottish Football Museum

    Homes of Football:

    Scottish National Team Archive

    Scottish Football Historical Archive

    Post War English & Scottish Footballers Careers

    Find historical football reports at at


    Robin Day, Blackpool Football, The Official Club History (1972)

    Brian Belton, The Lads of 23- 1923 FA Cup Final, (2006)
    Stanley Mortensen, Football is my Game (1949)
    Stanley Matthews, The Way It Was (2000)

    Ann Langton (ed.), Saved: A Rare Anthology of Football from Homer to Gazza (2006)

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Member of The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in ArchivesGraduate of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies CanterburyMember of the Society of Genealogists