Discovering Your Family History - Local Newspapers


Local newspapers are a rich source for family and local historians. For our area we are fortunate in having on our doorstep the West Sussex Gazette, the Arundel based paper, which dates back to 1853. The files are available at the County Record Office in Chichester and, on microfilm, at the Library in Chichester.

Newspapers are a marvellous treasure trove of news, articles, reports, advertisements, and later on photographs that may not be found in any other records. The only problem for the researcher is that they lack indexes and can therefore be a very time-consuming source, unless you have a date from which to work. It is also very easy to be distracted by the many stories that draw you away from the task in hand.

Looking for a Yapton example of 100 years ago I came across a heart-rending piece in the West Sussex Gazette on 8 May 1913. A six year old boy, Cecil George May, was knocked down by a motor car as he left school and later died in hospital in Chichester. He was the son of the blacksmith, William Edward May, and lived at 5 Victoria Villas in Yapton.

The newspaper report reveals that he had been playing with two friends and had run out from behind a flint wall when he was struck by the car. lt was travelling at only eight miles an hour and the driver was exonerated from any blame. At the lnquest the Coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death and attention focussed on the danger presented by the wall.

ln the absence of Coroners’ records, which do not survive for this period, the newspaper gives the only detailed account of the tragedy and the lnquest. We can look elsewhere for additional information. The 1911 census for Yapton lists the family, with William May, aged 38, living with his wife Annie and their five children, including Cecil. And amongst the parish records, the burial register of the Church of St Mary records the burial of the little boy on 9 May 1913.

The story appears all the more tragic for the fact that the roads would have been so quiet in those days. Picture postcards of the time show a tranquil rural scene with rarely a horse and cart let alone a motor car. The first car was registered in West Sussex in 1903 and ten years later there would still have been very few passing through the village. Indeed, at the lnquest the school master, John Horne, said it was the first accident of its kind to happen in Yapton.

View of St Mary's from Church Lane

Newspapers are just one source for family and local history. We have 25 miles of records, dating back 1200 years, at the County Record Office. Do come along if you are interested. We are open six days a week and visiting is free. You will find the sources you need and the expert staff to set you off on your research.

Alan Readman

Alan Readman is the County Archivist based at the West Sussex Record Ofiice, Orchard Street, Chichester. PO19 1DD. Tel: 01243 753602. Email:

(Originally published in Yapton News, May 2013)