Apart from reports of trials, the genealogical information to be gleaned from early newspapers relates to fairly 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. This remains true even from the third and fourth decades of the nineteenth century, when the number of announcements rose markedly and the social classes covered broadened somewhat.
As literacy grew, and as newspaper circulation expanded from the late
nineteenth century into the early twentieth, this broadening of the social classes
continued. Then, as now, publishing long lists of individuals-amateur football
teams, successful candidates in the Intermediate Certificate examination, complete
memberships of dramatic societies-was a way of ensuring that everyone
on the list would buy the paper. With online full-text search it is possible to
retrieve individuals from these lists quickly and painlessly.
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