Understanding the Gazettes

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Using the London Gazette , Geoff Culshaw found out about debtors in his family’s past. Find your bankrupt, business and military ancestors in the London , Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes too.

The London Gazette was first published in 1665 as a newspaper by the government of King Charles II. The court of Charles II was operating from Oxford at the time, having left London to escape the plague, so the first few issues of the publication appeared under the title the Oxford Gazette . However, after a short while the title was changed, and the London Gazette was born. This newspaper came into being as a means of disseminating the official version of the news at a time when strict censorship – in the form of the Licensing Acts, 1662-1695 – controlled the publication of information relating to affairs of state.

If we skip forward to today we find that the London Gazette is still published. It ceased to be a newspaper many years ago, but exists as the prime source of official notices. Furthermore, if has been joined by two sister publications – the Edinburgh Gazette and the Belfast Gazette – which fulfil a similar function to the London Gazette in Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively. Copies of the London Gazette are available for public research at The National Archives, Kew , source reference ZJ 1. They can also be seen in London at Guildhall Library, and the British Library.

The Edinburgh Gazette commenced publication in 1699. In its first hundred years it had periods when it did not appear, but it has been published continuously from 1793 to the present. Copies of the Edinburgh Gazette are available for public research at the University of Glasgow search rooms. These records cover the period 1799-1977, but there are some gaps, so you will need to check with the archives before making a visit, to ensure that the dates that interest you are in the collection. Although the records are not held by the National Archives of Scotland (NAS), they are included in the NAS online catalogue at www.nas.gov.uk/onlineCatalogue/ . A good way to obtain details of the records held by University of Glasgow is to search the NAS catalogue using reference E 876 – Exchequer Records: King’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer’s Office: Edinburgh Gazette (bound volumes).

The Belfast Gazette is a relatively recent arrival on the scene, being first published in 1921. It is the successor to the Dublin Gazette , which first appeared in 1706, and is still published in the Republic of Ireland under the title Iris Oifigiuil . Copies of the Belfast Gazette dated 1921-1977 are available for public research at The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, source reference OS/1/G.

All of the Gazettes are now published under the auspices of The Stationery Office, and contain a great range of official announcements. These include such items as Court announcements, bankruptcies, liquidation notices, name-change notices, announcements of appointments in the armed forces, naturalisations, probate notices and planning notices.

The really good news is that a searchable internet website ( www.gazettes-online.co.uk ) now makes all these publications available for public viewing, free of charge. My purpose in this article is to outline the type of information that you may expect to find in them, at the same time giving you a few ideas as to how the information may benefit your family history research. There is not space, in this short article, to cover all the various types of notices that appear in the Gazettes , so I shall confine myself to some of the types of items that have been useful to me in my family history research.

The first time I used the London Gazette in my research was some years ago. I had discovered that Joseph Collyer, Citizen and Stationer of London in the 18th century, had become insolvent, and wanted to find out whether there were any records that I could research regarding this. The London Gazette contained the following notice:

London Gazette
29 July 1749, pages 2-3
The following Persons being Fugitives for Debt, and beyond the Seas on or before the first of January 1747, and having surrendered themselves to the Warden of the Prison of the Fleet, London, hereby give Notice, that they intend to take the Benefit of the late Act of Parliament made in the Twenty-first Year of the Reign of his present Majesty King George the Second, intitled, An Act for Relief of Insolvent Debtors, at the next General or Quarter Sessions of the Peace to be held at Guildhall in and for the City of London, which shall happen next after Thirty Days from the Publication hereof, viz William Stutley, late of Belton street, in the Parish of St Giles in the Fields, in the County of Middlesex, Baker. Joseph Collyer, late of Ludgate-street, London , Bookseller.

You may imagine my delight on reading this entry. Apart from telling me of Collyer’s flight from his creditors, it opened up new avenues of research. I visited the Corporation of London Records Office, and was able to trace the record of Joseph Collyer’s stay in the Fleet Prison, which included a list of his creditors – one of whom was his uncle James Jacobson, Broker of London – my direct ancestor.

Incidentally, if you are thinking of looking up the records of the Fleet prison they are now held at London Metropolitan Archives.

Was your ancestor in business? If so you may find a notice relating to the dissolution of a partnership, similar to the following example:

Edinburgh Gazette
24 December 1920, page 2,749
Notice of Dissolution
The Copartnery of Gillon & Gibson, Curriers and Leather Merchants, carrying on business at Postgate, Hamilton, of which the deceased James Gibson and the Subscriber Robert Thomson Gillon were the Sole Partners, was Dissolved, as at 12th July 1920, by the death of the said James Gibson. The Business will be carried on by the said Robert Thomson Gillon, as formerly, under the same Firm name, and he will collect the debts and discharge the liabilities of the dissolved Firm.
Robt T Gillon
John Gibson
Arthur Anderson

Not only does this notice tell us about the dissolution of a business partnership, but also the date of the death of James Gibson, all valuable genealogical material.

In probate cases it is often necessary for an executor to publish a notice aimed at making contact with all the people who may be entitled to benefit from the will of the deceased. Within the pages of the Gazettes you will find many of these notices, which can prove most informative to a family historian, as can be seen from the following example, taken from the Belfast Gazette .

Belfast Gazette
23 Jan 1931, page 83
In the Goods of James Turner, late of Articlaye, County Londonderry , Blacksmith retired, Deceased.
Notice is hereby given, pursuant to Statute 22 and 23 Vic., cap. 35, that all persons having claims against the Estate of the above deceased, who died on 28th November, 1930, are required, on or before 2nd March, 1931, to furnish full particulars thereof (in writing) to the undersigned Solicitor for the Executors of the Will of said deceased, to whom Probate was granted from the District Probate Registry, Northern Ireland, on 20th January, 1931. And Notice is hereby further given, that after 2nd March, 1931, the Executors will proceed to distribute the Assets of said deceased amongst the parties entitled thereto, having regard only to claims of which particulars shall have been received as aforesaid.
Dated this 21st day of January. 1931.
Samuel A Wray, Solicitor, 47 Chichester
Street, Belfast ; and Coleraine.

What gems these notices are! In these few lines we learn the name and address of the deceased, the date of his death, and the date of probate. So many leads for further research in one small extract.

The website www.gazettes-online.co.uk makes over 300 years of Gazettes available for searching via the web. The search mechanism is both user-friendly and flexible, facilitating searches by criteria including keyword, date, or subject. If you want to search for a given surname, all you need to do is enter the surname as your keyword, select your date range, and click on the ‘search’ button.

Why not try it now? You never know what you may find. ?

Useful addresses
Find the London Gazette at The National Archives
Kew, Richmond , Surrey TW9 4DU
Search the catalogue for holdings online www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/

Find the Edinburgh Gazette at the University of Glasgow
University Avenue, Glasgow G12 8QQ

Search the National Archives of Scotland catalogue, which includes the Edinburgh Gazette , at www.nas.gov.uk/onlineCatalogue/

Find the Belfast Gazette at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
66 Balmoral Avenue , Belfast BT9 6NY

Geoff Culshaw

This article was published in Family Tree Magazine, December 2008 issue, pp 72-73 (ABM Publishing)

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  • This page was last updated on Saturday July 2nd, 2011.