I attended a genealogy program on historical newspapers on Saturday as the liaison to the genealogy society. Here’s what I learned…!
Greenwich Library will be putting the entirety of their local paper online soon.
Darien Library has the Darien Times digitized on DVDs. Ask the reference librarian.
Optional Character Recognization (OCR) is what allows computers to read scanned text. It’s not perfect with around 85% accuracy.
She found out that her great-great grandfather was murdered in 1894 in Syracuse, NY. Each newspaper had a wildly differing account of what happened. The journalists rode around on bicycles.
According to the murderer, he thought the gg-gf was having an affair with his wife. The gg-gf had once lived as a boarder in the murderer’s house years before and had been “firm friends.” The gg-gf was across the street from the killer’s house talking to some construction workers hoping to pick up some work. The killer brought a gun out, hung around the construction site for 20 minutes before killing the gg-gf.
The Union Press and the Associated Press, the country/language specific papers told different stories. Especially the non-English papers. There was a big German convention/anniversary that weekend, so everyone gossiped.
Look up images of the scene across town + Google Street View + map overview to learn about the area. When you get a newspaper for such a big incident, you want to look at the surrounding area to see what was happening nearby, who lived where.
Look for misspellings which can be wildly wrong. Check the death certificate and the casket plate. If the name is wrong on the casket plate, they may have shortened it to save money.
Look out for Reporters goofs with misspelled names.
Relatives spin tales to cover up and make their family look better.
People lie about their age, people mishear, or misread, or someone being in an asylum. People’s genders are switched by their names being miswritten (e.g. Martha becomes Marvin)
As a professional genealogist, you have to do an exhaustive search.
Keywords: right name spelling, wrong name spelling, initials, abbreviations, street names, “killed instantly” “Pearl Street”.
E.g. William may be Wm.
People can show up years later when they’re mentioned in widow’s obituary or if the house is sold.
How do you know that the OCR has gobbly-gook?
Highlight the text and paste into a Word document to see what the machine read.
Keep lists of the wrong ways that your family name is written by census takers and newspapers.
Look beyond known locations that make sense (e.g. not just your state). Lively stories like murders may spread to other states. This story happened in NY State, but showed up in Colorado…in 1894!
Searched newspapers.com for a variety of misspellings
Big printers would put together 3-6 pages already printed with big news. Then sent the half-filled paper to small towns. Those towns would then fill in local news on the blank pages.
Papers in the US were originally political but around the Civil War became advertising.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/ — free site from the Library of Congress (check URL)
Fultonhistory.com is a free site.
State libraries often have better newspapers and better scans since their papers were less likely to be manhandled so much.
Watch out for victims and killers’ names being switched. Or victims killing themselves.
You can sometimes check to see which illnesses run through a family.
Her 3rd great grandfather was listed as an endorser of a doctor and his condition was listed in a newspaper.
Cocaine and morphine were legal for everyday people to access until 1895. People in the 1870s-1890s were often self-dosing with cocaine for their pain. Reporters were given drugs by their editors.
Her great-grandfather’s death in a mine fall showed up in a newspaper 220 miles away.
Use boolean or fuzzy search to help you find stuff.
Fuzzy search is what you expect to have
Substitute vowels with asterisks to help find better info.
Go to her Cos Cob presentation on 10/31 for more details.
Your ancestors traveled around to other places. They had friends and family elsewhere. They may show up in other places where they had friends.
Keep notes with your sources.
Write an abstract of what was originally written as well as the OCR text
Facts that you have proven
— City, State
— Date published
— Link to story
— Names or words to find story
— Number of times you found that word/keyword in that newspaper
Keep images within notes.
— includes photos of what they were doing
Look for how people traveled to/from their home, work, church.
PowerPoint slides to keep notes
For labeling photos
Put the photo in a PowerPoint, then add text box underneath of who is in the picture
300 DPI min.
In 100 years ago, men may have only had an obituary. Or maybe only important men.
The people who wrote the obit may have purposely put in the wrong info.
— Using Picasa for family photos for tagging and location
She ultimately puts her stuff in PowerPoint to make it easy for her to use.
Many ways to stay organized (by person, by newspaper, keywords)
Searching keywords vs. names
“almost instantly killed” in papers for this time period
Initials, Nicknames, Abbreviation, Maiden, Husband’s names
Look at how they write all these crazy things
In sports reporting, you’ll only have last names.
Mrs. _____ ________
— using husband’s name only
— repeated marriages
— listed with previous marriage names. She may be John Smith’s widow, but she was also a divorcee, so she’s Jane Gray Smith. Gray was her previous husband.
Look at genealogybank.com
People sometimes looked for XX years after their death. Old classmates, colleagues, etc. may be looking for them.
Adjacent day: people may not be in the paper from the next day but the day after.
Especially for obituaries.
Look for the police reports. Her gg-gf was charged with assault by his wife a year prior. Thus they weren’t living together.
Great-aunt was put in an asylum for the last 20 years of her life after “being a disturber” for laughing in church.
Look for photos across different sources (e.g. Ancestry.com, newspapers.com, newspaperarchive.com, etc.). They may have different quality photos or scans
Furniture makers/sellers and undertakers were often the same person in 19th century
Write Tom Trinisty for better photos (of fultonhistory.com)
Hoe’s Cylinder was a great printing press machine
Newspapers poached each other to hire the best talent. Then you get crap people in the other newspapers.
Papers had different circulation rates and different number of staff.