The British Library, in association with online publisher brightsolid, has launched a Web site that could transform the way people use archived issues of newspapers.

The new site, called British Newspaper Archive, will offer access to 4 million fully searchable pages featuring more than 200 newspaper titles from every part of the UK and Ireland.

The newspapers available at the moment date, primarily, from the 19th century, although there are runs dating back to the first half of the 18th century. All in all, these cover every aspect of local, regional and national news.

"The launch of the British Newspaper Archive website opens up the British Library's newspaper collection as never before," said the British Library's Head of Newspapers, Ed King, in a statement.

"Rather than having to view the items on-site at the Library, turning each page, people across the UK and around the world will be able to explore for themselves the gold-mine of stories and information contained in these pages - and the ability to search across millions of articles will yield results for each user, that might previously have been the work of weeks or months, in a matter of seconds and the click of a mouse," he continued.

The Web site will have exhaustive coverage of crime and punishment and eyewitness accounts of social transformation, as well as illustrations and advertisements.

These newspapers will give first-hand accounts of historic events such as the wedding of Victoria and Albert and the Charge of the Light Brigade. In addition, they will also provide countless vivid details of how our ancestors lived and died, how they went up and down in the world and how they fed, clothed and entertained themselves.

The Web site offers a wealth of material for people researching family history, including family notices, announcements and obituaries, while the ability to search by name, location, date and newspaper title means that people can search across hundreds of thousands of pages at a time as they track down that elusive ancestor.

"The British Newspaper Archive is a rich and hugely exciting resource, packed with historical detail. It's a great example of the public and private sectors collaborating to deliver something that neither party could have delivered by themselves. I searched for my own constituency of Wantage and within seconds had 42,000 results - an indication of the breadth and variety of material featured," said Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, while welcoming the new Web site.

"We've unearthed national treasures at the turn of every page. All human life is here; from a man who decided one day to walk round the world in an iron mask, to bullet-stopping corsets and the art of wide-sleeved shoplifting - this is a digital Aladdin's Cave. The 65 million stories available online today, taken together, are the story of the UK and we're adding 120,000 stories a day, so you'll be able to uncover what life was like in your street, your town and your area," said Chris van der Kuyl, Chief Executive Officer of brightsolid.

"The British Newspaper Archive website opens up a magical new window on a magnificent treasure store of real history, recording the lives of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in vibrant communities, rather than merely the cold facts of politics and pestilence," Executive Director of the Society of Editors, Bob Satchwell said.

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