Episode 297 - Back To School Photos, FamilySearch Takes On Africa Initiative, Ask Us Anything: Digitized Newspapers

podcast episode Sep 08, 2019

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with Family Histoire News. He starts out with the story of a town in New Hampshire that got quite the surprise when they opened a time capsule that was created in 1969. In Denmark, Vikings are being honored at crosswalks in one particular town. Fisher explains. Then, a female Union Civil War spy is getting attention from the Smithsonian. Fisher tells some of her remarkable story. Finally, a Brit is relishing the rediscovery of a very old ring he found back in 1979. Catch the details and hear what it’s worth now.

Fisher then visits with the Photo Detective, Maureen Taylor, who shares the history of school photos. You will be amazed at how far back they go. Maureen talks about various sources for early school images.

Thom Reed from FamilySearch International then explains to Fisher about the new R.O.A.R. initiative that FamilySearch is a part of with numerous other partners. R.O.A.R. stands for Reclaiming Our African Heritage. It sounds like great news ahead for the ‘20s for African American researchers. Hear how you can help in this all-encompassing effort.

Then, Jim Beidler from Legacy Tree Genealogists handles Ask Us Anything questions on digitized newspapers. Hear where the free stuff is and the differences between the various pay sites.

That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!

Transcript of Episode 297

Host: Scott Fisher

Segment 1 Episode 297

Fisher:And welcome toAmerica’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Loaded show today! Boy, we’ve got some great guests. Maureen Taylor is going to be here because, of course, it being Labor Day and all. School is getting started in a lot of places. Well, at least the ones where they’re starting in the same time period that was intended by our maker in the first place right after Labor Day. Maureen is going to talk about back to school pictures, the history of some of these things, the earliest ones, and just some great stories, so that’s going to be fun coming up with Maureen in about ten minutes.

Then, we’re going to talk to Thom Reed with FamilySearch.org. Tom is deep in the weeds with Family Search in an initiative with a whole bunch of different organizations for a thing called “ROAR” which is Reclaiming Our African Roots. And it’s going to yield great fruit with the help of a lot of people, maybe even including yourselves, so we’ll tell you more about that coming up a bit later on in the show. And then for “Ask Us Anything” today we’re going to talk to Jim Beidler from our friends at Legacy Tree Genealogists. He is a newspaper specialist and we’re going to talk about digitized papers, some of the differences between the major outlets and some of the free places to get information and the kinds of stories you can also find along the way. Hey, if you haven’t signed up for our “Weekly Genie Newsletter” yet, now’s the time to do it. Sign up on our Facebook page or ExtremeGenes.com. It’s free. You get a blog from me each week, links to present and past shows and links to stories you’ll find fascinating as a genealogist. Hey, and also if you’d like to support the show look into our Patron Club. Just go to Patreon.com/ExtremeGenes to sign up. For less than the cost of a nice juicy hamburger each month, you can get early podcast access, bonus podcast and all kinds of other benefits, so we would love to have you as part of that.

Well, David is on vacation this week. Believe it or not he’s off in Disneyland. That’s what people do after the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference, right? Off they go. [Laughs] So, I’m going to handle things “solo” like in the early years. We’ve got some great stories this week to share with you. We open up Family Histoire News today with a story out of Derry, New Hampshire. Now this is a little town that’s celebrating their 300th anniversary. Well, 50 years ago, of course it was their 250th, 1969, big year of course, it was Woodstock and the moon landing, the Mets won the World Series, so they decided to put together a time capsule that would be open 50 years later, 2019 to honor the 300th anniversary and send a letter to the future. And so they stored this capsule in a safe on a shelf in the library there in Derry. So, when the 50th anniversary rolled around, the library director there, Cara Potter figured okay it is time for their “public reveal.” And so they had not too many people show up, you know, some town officials, some local historians. She opened up the capsule. It didn’t work on the first try, but once the thing got opened they found there was nothing in it. So, now they’re figuring this is kind of a mystery. But here’s the thing that’s kind of funny. Somebody actually taped the combination to the back of the safe. So, somewhere, maybe in the 1970s, maybe in the ‘80s, maybe in the ‘90s somebody got in there and cleaned the thing out. We may never know what was in it.Well, across the pond in Denmark, in the city of Aarhus, they are celebrating their Viking heritage. Now, this is a town that was actually founded by the Vikings in the 8th century. And they decided in honor of all this they were going to replace the typical guys symbol in the crosswalks with Viking themes. We’re talking axe and helmet and the whole deal. This is an idea from a member of the city planning department and everybody agreed to it. So, they’ve changed out the symbols. They cost like $150 each. So, if you ever go to Aarhus and you go to cross the sidewalk you’re going to find Vikings telling you it’s safe to cross.

Well, Smithsonian these days is featuring a story about a woman known as Pauline Cushman. Yeah, she was born in 1833 as Harriet Wood, but she wanted to become an actress. So, she left her hometown, went to New York City to pursue her dreams as so many actresses do even to this day, right? That’s where she met her husband and he joined the army as a musician and then wound up getting killed in the Civil War in 1862. She then decided to continue to pursue her career in Louisville, Kentucky, which was a Union-controlled area at the time, left her two kids behind with the in-laws and was acting in a place called Woods Theater. And they say she wasn’t really a top-shelf actress, but she became a spy for the Union Army and became a huge hero of the Union especially after the war was over as they celebrated what she did. So, there’s this new exhibition. It’s called Storied Women of the Civil War Era. And as part of it you can actually see a photograph of Pauline Cushman in her military uniform along with thirteen other women. So, the story goes that Pauline was going to perform this scene in a play called The Seven Sisters and in the scene she proposes a toast. Well, there were a couple of rebel officers, a Captain Blincoe, a Colonel Spear and they offered her a little pay-off if she would offer that toast to the Confederacy. So, she told this dare to the authorities, the Union authorities, and they said to her, “Well, take the bet. Get in with these people, and then feed information back to us.” So, on the night of the show Pauline raised her glass and yelled out, “Here’s to Jefferson Davis and the Southern Confederacy! May the South always maintain her honor and her rights!”

Well, Pauline wound up getting fired. Of course, the South now loved her. Pauline was embraced by the Confederacy and began spying for the Union. Well, in time she was trying to cross back over in to the Union territory and was caught with battle plans that she hid in her boots and a Confederate military court sentenced her to die by hanging. Well, the Union Army came in and invaded the area before they could do that and she was rescued and became this major figure after the Civil War.You can read the entire story. We’ve linked to it on ExtremeGenes.com. And finally, there’s one last little ditty that I think is a lot of fun. You can also find on our website ExtremeGenes.com about a Brit who found a ring 670 years old back in 1979. Didn’t know what he had, but he does now because he’s become more of an expert in it. You’ve got to see the ring and hear what it’s worth. Check it out at ExtremeGenes.com. Well, coming up next we’re going to talk to the Photo Detective Maureen Taylor about back to school photos. When did they start? What did they first look like, and where can you find them these days? Lots of info ahead with Maureen Taylor in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 297

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Maureen Taylor

Fisher: And it is that time of year again of course for back to school. Hi, it is Fisher on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. And it’s time for those back to school photographs. And what a great part of family history these things are, and that’s why we got to get the Photo Detective Maureen Taylor on the line talking about them. Hi Maureen, how are you?

Maureen: Hey Scott, how are you?

Fisher: Great! You know, this is an interesting time of year. In fact, I remember when my oldest daughter was getting ready for her back to school photo, and I want to say she was in third grade, and my wife was out of town that day so I had to dress her for the picture.

Maureen: [Laughs]

Fisher: Yeah. You’re snickering already. You know.

Maureen: I guess I am.

Fisher: You know what happened? I put her top on backwards and [Laughs] she had her photo taken that way and I never have heard the end of it in all these years since. She’s in her 30s now. So, you know, it’s treacherous for fathers to do things like that. But how are you? It’s good to have you on.

Maureen: I’m good. You know, I have to say that my Facebook feed is just blowing up with lots of people taking pictures of their kids on the first day of school, which is a long tradition, like almost back to the beginning of photography tradition, perhaps.

Fisher: Absolutely. How many of us have a picture in front of the school bus, right, on the first day of kindergarten, or first grade, of something like that?

Maureen: Right.

Fisher: I think a huge number of us. And this stuff goes way back and we’ve been talking a little bit in recent days about the history of school photographs, and I had no idea how far back these things go.

Maureen: That’s right. So the first, what’s thought to be the very first school photograph, is a picture of the graduates of Yale University, Class of 1810.

Fisher: Right, which would make everybody, oh wait a minute, she doesn’t mean 1810. There was no photography in 1810.   

Maureen: I do mean 1810 because they were photographed at a class reunion in 1840.

Fisher: And of course as many of us know, 1839 is the year that photography kind of became generalized. So, this was like within the first year of photography. And who did this?

Maureen: Samuel Morse. He was a member of the Class of 1810, and a very well known daguerreotypist. So, it appears he photographed, and I can’t get my hands on a better copy of it from the web, but there are 35 individual portraits that are in a frame. And that is considered the first class picture.

Fisher: That is awesome. Now, you’re talking about Samuel Morse. Mr Morse Code?

Maureen: It might be the same Samuel Morse, but the Samuel Morse I know him as photographer.

Fisher: Okay.

Maureen: Samuel F.B. Morse.

Fisher: Well, that’s him then.

Maureen: Then that’s him.

Fisher: That’s him.

Maureen: He was a technical, inventive kind of guy.

Fisher: Yes, very much so. But to be taking class pictures in 1840 of the Class of 1810 at Yale, that’s pretty phenomenal and hopefully, we can find a copy of that picture and get it up for people to see at ExtremeGenes.com. So, now that we’ve got this going on again this year, this great tradition, it’s exciting to know that there are so many places now that are digitizing the old yearbooks from the various schools.

Maureen: I don’t know about you, but I just lost a few years of my life on the Ancestry.comyear book search. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] Well, they’ve got what, 450,000 books up there or something like that?

62 million pages.

Fisher: Wow! That is absolutely incredible. I have found pictures from my high school year book on there, my dad’s high school yearbooks. You know, years ago I went on eBay and found all four of his yearbooks from the late 20s and early 30s. And paid like 55 bucks for them. I’m happy to have them. I like having the originals. He wrote in each one of them for one of his classmates. There are all kinds of new pictures in there. But I might not have been as inclined to look for them if they had all been digitized online like they are now, you know?

Maureen: Well, I just put a challenge up on my Facebook page. I found my high school picture and I shared it and I said I asked people to find their high school picture and to share their pictures. Some people have declined. They said they saw it but they’ll never put it up.

Fisher: They’ll never put it out there. Of course, it is something they can never avoid having out there because of what Ancestry is doing, which I think is fantastic by the way. You know, I had a half brother who moved around a little bit and I didn’t know him real well because he died when I was eight. And he was the result of my dad’s first marriage, and I’ve never been able to find his high school pictures. So I’m hoping that those will show up at some point and I can see what his life was like at that time. It’s interesting that most of the yearbooks that we’re seeing now on Ancestry and other places, you know, those school class picture sites they cover usually high school and college. But I have yearbooks from junior high and even some, well, pretty low-end year books that they made when I was in elementary school. And I’m thinking boy, there’s a lot of good stuff in there. Because there was a lot of great class pictures from all the first grade classes in my school, and second, and third, and fourth, and fifth, up to sixth grade. And I’m afraid that a lot of those are never going to get picked up, if you know what I’m saying.    

Maureen: I mean, these are high school yearbooks and college yearbooks. So, I found my father-in-law’s college graduation picture, and I found my mother-in-law’s, a couple of pictures from her high school yearbooks. And you know, I have a class picture from second grade, but those are not in here. This is yearbooks. These are mass produced yearbooks. So the first mass produced yearbooks really began in the 1880s. But before that, I just want to sort of insert a little history into this, before that, large colleges did have yearbooks, but each yearbook page had an original photograph on it.

Fisher: When was this?

Maureen: The 1860s and 70s.

Fisher: Oh wow.

Maureen: So, there were college yearbooks for like Ivy League Colleges for instance, but each one of them was an original photograph like a copy of a card du visageor something like that on the page for that person.

Fisher: Unfortunately though, this is not for the public at large, right? I mean, these would have to be mostly pretty high-end families, which means there’s just not as many.

Maureen: No. No, there’s hardly any. Hardly any. But there are amazing when you see one. I have seen one, and you’re just in awe when you turn the page and you think there’s the person’s name, and there’s their original photograph.

Fisher: I’ve got to ask though, I mean with that very first one from 1840, do you see any of those people there making funny faces for the photographer? I mean, who was the first funny face on the high school or the college picture? That’s the question, you know. It’s got to be somebody.

Maureen: I don’t know. No, there’s no one here.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Maureen: No they’re all pretty.

Fisher: Pretty stoic.

Maureen: Curious.

Fisher: Yeah. Well, they’re Yale grads you know, what do you want? So, have you ever tried to put together a collection of all your class photos and put them in a row?

Maureen: No. There are some I’d really rather not ever see again.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs] You’d like to bury someplace. Unfortunately, you can’t.

Maureen: Those junior high photos, I would rather not ever see again. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yeah. Well, I think we all have photos like that, right? Oh, I don’t like that side of my face. I don’t like the way my body looks. I don’t like what I’m wearing. Oh, my hair is out of place. I mean,there’s so many reasons.

Maureen: Right.

Fisher: That would be a fun collection too, wouldn’t it? I mean, the worst photos of me ever, and put them all in one big folder.

Maureen: Hmm, no.

Fisher: And then burn the folder. [Laughs]

Maureen: No. I mean, we all have awkward years with awkward photos for sure.

Fisher: Sure.

Maureen: And I actually, just a little while ago, went through the box of all my kids’ photos from all their school you know, formal portraits, and I thought, “Oh my goodness, I haven’t done anything like those yet.” We forget about the modern photos. I’m so focused on the old stuff I forget about the new stuff.

Fisher: Yeah. Don’t you think there is a point in your life where you have to pivot and you go, okay, I’ve spent so many years on the old stuff and I’m forgetting not only what I’ve got to do with my kids’ things to make sure that they can access it and enjoy it as much as they can, but also start putting my story together, our own stories, our own histories, and our own photographs so that these things make sense to people years later. So, what do you think, are yearbooks going to eventually be strictly online things, or has that already begun?

Maureen: That I do not know. I do not have, my children are older so they’re out of school, but my daughter did not have a yearbook when she graduated from college.

Fisher: Why?

Maureen: There were no yearbooks. High school, they had yearbooks. I don’t know. We’ll have to ask your listeners to find out if anyone’s got kids that are graduating this year, if they’re going to have a yearbook or not.

Fisher: Right,whether they’re going to have a physical book, or is there going to be a digital book, or nothing at all.

Maureen: I would hope that there’s still a physical book.

Fisher: Yeah, I would think so too. When did they start making physical books? When did the books come out?

Maureen: So, they’re able to mass produce as of the 1880s. And then it really takes off in the 20th century. The components of the yearbook are photographs of the graduating class and under class and that’s why you have lots of very interesting information on your ancestors.

Fisher: Yeah.

Maureen: Like I found my mother-in-law got some award for being the sportiest.

Fisher: The sportiest. [Laughs] Did you ever get one of those most likely to succeed, most likely to be a photographer, any of those things?

Maureen: No.

Fisher: No, I didn’t qualify either. Well, that’s fun because I have looked back. I have a branch of the family that was very hoity-toity back in the New York area, and they went to some of these high-end schools. And that seems to be the earliest photographs that I can find of them in school class pictures. And yet there’s a lot of information there. They’ll talk a lot about, for instance, when they may have entered into World War I, or their fraternities, that type of thing. So, I’m thinking colleges may have been well ahead of high schools.

Maureen: Yes, I think so. A lot of the class photos that I see are small classes because you have to think about how long people stayed in school a hundred years ago.

Fisher: Um hmm. Yeah, that long. That’s right.

Maureen: Many people stopped at eighth grade.

Fisher: And even third grade.

Maureen: Yes.

Fisher: Yeah, but eighth grade seems to be where a lot of them...because at that point they were old enough and physically large enough that they could go to work.

Maureen: Exactly. And so the class photographs I see from like eighth grade for instance, especially in the 19th century, are primarily like a teacher and like you know, seven students. It’s small.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs] That’s true. So, you wouldn’t get a book out of that, would you?

Maureen: No. That’s the class photo. You know, we’re talking about Ancestry.comwith their new yearbook collection, but DeadFred.com, there are a lot of yearbook photos on DeadFred as well.

Fisher: That’s a great tip. She is the Photo Detective. She’s Maureen Taylor. You can follow her at MaureenTaylor.com. And Maureen thanks so much for coming on and talking about it because it’s that time of the year. We’ve just got to make sure everybody gets the clothes on the right way as they dress the kids up.

Maureen: [Laughs]

Fisher: And coming up next in five minutes, I’m going to talk to Thom Reed from FamilySearch.org which has created a new initiative for African American research. You’re going to want to hear what he has to say, coming up next on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.       

Segment 3 Episode 297

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Thom Reed

Fisher:And we are back at it on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. I’m very excited to have on the show today once again my good friend Thom Reed, with FamilySearch International. Thom, welcome back to the show! You’ve got some big stuff going on that you just announced at the FGS conference in Washington D.C. recently. Tell us about ROAR, Reclaiming Our African Roots.

Thom: Well, thank you for having me back, first of all. This is good. I’m glad your ears were burning after that announcement we made at FGS. Reclaiming Our African Roots or ROAR, as we love that acronym, is all about helping people of African descent more easily discover their families and connect with their homeland. And we’re doing this in partnership with various organizations around the world. Folks like, Enslaved.org, or the International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, or the National Archives in London. We’re all looking at people of African descent and how they’ve been able to trace their families. And what we can do collaboratively to improve that experience and make it so that individuals will be able to go back as far as they can, whether they live on the continent of Africa or of African descent here in the United States, and in Brazil, and the Caribbean, that there’ll be some way for them to know their own heritage and have a link back to their homeland.

Fisher: This is fantastic and when you consider the resources of FamilySearch and all these other places that you’re talking about, I mean, you’ve got to have millions of records that are going to become available. What’s your timeline for putting this together, for something to happen that can give African American researchers a better experience?

Thom: Yeah, we really have our eye kind of set with this relationship with the International African American Museum. We’re trying to tie our efforts to what’s going to happen at their museum when they open in probably the fall of 2021. We’ve already started on this effort. So, we’re calling kind of a three year focus and in that three years we’re focused on from a FamilySearch standpoint and our contribution to this collaborative effort, we’re looking at you know, publishing an additional 28 million records for African Americans.

Fisher: Wow!

Thom: That’s ten times the number of records that we did with the Freeman’s Bureau project specifically in various collections. We’re looking at about 48 million records in Brazil, some that had never been explored before and never been accessible before in any way in Brazil. We’re trying to do that. And then also, in Africa we’re collecting oral histories in 15 different nations. By that time, we’ll probably be somewhere around the 200 million names collected from our genealogy oral history project on the continent of Africa. So, if you add all those numbers up I think 200 plus 48, probably 275 million records, names of people more easily searchable through FamilySearch as a part of Reclaiming Our African Roots.

Fisher: Wow. Now, when we talk about dealing with records of enslaved people, I know you and I were talking a little off the air, would you describe exactly how we might see this eventually, I mean, in terms of finding a name from the pre-1860 era tied to the enslaver family?

Thom: Yeah, in slavery, slave ancestor research, what we teach is you’re going to get to a point prior to 1870 what we traditionally call a brick wall, where you’re going to need to look at enslaved and slaver relationships. So, if you’re African American and you’re researching was your family member or ancestor connected to a specific slave-holder in a similar location and by connecting to that slave-holder it opens up a lot of times records that have information on enslaved people that we’d never been able to see before. And soFamilySearch is looking at, okay, how do we treat that on our actual website? What do we do to document the difference between a father and a son and a slave-holder and an enslaved person? 

Fisher: Um hmm.

Thom: We don’t have answers for that quite yet but that’s where we’re going because we know that it’s very critical and helpful for anyone who is trying to breakthrough that 1870 brick wall to be able to connect with a slave-holder and follow that slave-holder to see maybe where for whatever reason they bought their enslaved individuals when they first arrived in the United States. And those types of connections can maybe sometimes in probable ways connect people back to Africa and where those voyages came from in Africa and landed in different places in the United States.

Fisher: Wow!

Thom: So, we’re just working on how to do that now. Now, that’s probably a corner-case and not going to happen for lots of people, but we want to improve the odds through Reclaiming Our African Roots.

Fisher: Yeah. Right. And there’s going to be a certain amount of synergy, I think, that comes from that as little bits are gathered here and there until eventually things like this become more common, don’t you think?

Thom: Yeah. There are organizations that are out there that are trying to do it, that we’re trying to work with. I mentioned before Enslaved.org is a consortium based out of Michigan State University where they’re looking at databases that enslaved people that reside at different universities or at different institutions, and how can people access all that information in one hub. And that’s what we would love to be from FamilySearch, the one-stop shop if you will, for people who are doing slave ancestor research. And that’s why we’re partnering with the folks at Enslaved to make these discoveries more easily available because there’s not just us at FamilySearch standpoint, but there’s many in the genealogical community and historical community who have been yearning for some collective effort to bring all this together. Because that’s the only way we really going to tackle this issue for African Americans and people of African descend and doing this research is if we all work together.

Fisher: Sure.

Thom: And that’s why we formed this kind of coalition with Reclaiming Our African Roots.

Fisher: Well, you know, I recently made a discovery on FamilySearch going to records and then putting in the name of the father and the mother only because I didn’t know really what the name of the person was that I was looking for. I was looking for siblings to my direct ancestor and that pulled it up. Do you envision perhaps the day where just like putting up the names of parents if you put in the name of the enslaving family, that you might be able to pull up your people?

Thom: Yes. We hope to get to that point. Again, it’s horrible to think of, to think that you’d have to search for a slave-holder to find your enslaved people, but we know that that’s critical for individuals to discover their ancestors.

Fisher: Sure.

Thom: So, we hope to accommodate that in some way. Currently, we allow you to search race on individual collections where race has been identified. Things like federal censuses in pretty much every federal census since 1870 we’ve had race lifted of the people there. So, it makes it easier when you’re doing your search to look at the black John Lewis versus the white John Lewis, and things like that.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Thom: But, we hope to be able to accommodate and make some changes to FamilySearch.org that will specifically benefit people of African descent whether it’s the oral histories that we are collecting that are in kind of our genealogy collection that don’t necessarily come up as searchable records right now or aren’t connected to the tree. We’re working on what we need to do to make that happen, so that if you’re Nigerian and you’re living in, you know, France, and you want to search your family history, you’ll be able to actually connect to where your people came from and see the whole history going back, and find that all on FamilySearch.org.

Fisher: Wow.

Thom: These are the efforts that we’ll make in the next three years through ROAR. So, one of the things we’re doing with ROAR and what I announced actually at FGS was this idea of “Join the cause” but right now, we need folks to help us indexing and adopt some of these collections and help get us get these indexed pretty quickly and published so that we can start having that foundation of a better experience on FamilySearch. I’m going to give you a link here. It’sBit.ly/joinfsROAR.

Fisher: And by the way, if you missed that link, we’ve got a link to it on the transcript in the summery about the podcast on ExtremeGenes.comso, check it out. He’s Thom Reed with FamilySearch International. He’s heading up Reclaiming Our African Roots on behalf of the FamilySearch part of the partnership. Sounds great Thom. I’m excited and looking forward to hearing all the progress and I hope you’ll keep us up to speed.

Thom: Will do Fisher, thanks.

Fisher: All right and coming up next it’s another “Ask Us Anything” segment talking about newspapers, digitized newspapers, what you can find, the best way to find them. It’s on the way in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 297

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Jim Beidler

Fisher: And it is time once again for “Ask Us Anything” on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. And if you have a question by the way for this segment anytime, you can just email us at [email protected]. And this week, we've got Jim Beidler on the line from Pennsylvania. He's a specialist with Legacy Tree Genealogists, one of our sponsors.He's in the newspaper research. And you've actually done on a book on this stuff, Jim.

Jim: Yes, I have. I've done The Family Tree Historical Newspapers Guide.

Fisher: That's awesome, because I think, in my mind, newspapers and DNA are the major things these days for putting stories together and breaking through brick walls. So, let's start with the first question here and it’s from Pete in St. Pete in Florida. And he says, "Is there a way to find newspaper stories about my family without paying a ton of money?" Good question Pete. And yes, there is, but I'll let Jim explain why.

Jim: Well, the first thing is, you're almost inevitably going to find something in newspapers about your ancestors. And everybody knows about obituaries. There's the saying, "Everyone dies famous in a small town.”That’s a country song. But obituaries shouldn't be the ending point for your newspaper research, because really, you can write a biography of an ancestor from mentions one sentence at a time in newspapers during their life, especially if you go back into the 19th century, you may find them listed, who was visiting who and who just got laid off at the local industrial plant.

Fisher: Oh yeah. Car accidents, legal issues, graduations, things from school, ship arrivals, that's another one.

Jim: Well, I would definitely recommend the site, Chronicling America. That's a project of Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities. They have millions of pages that had been contributed by state projects. They give them grant money.

Fisher: Right.

Jim: They digitize, that's completely free. And many of those state newspaper projects also have free sites of their own. California for instance, has a very extensive digitized newspaper collection from its state newspaper project. And even local libraries, they usually will just do a historical, local newspaper that they may have had on microfilm or maybe they even had the original bound print copies that they've converted to digital media. And then another site that's good is called, Old Fulton New York Post Cards.

Fisher: It’s unbelievable. One guy! And he's digitized like three or four times what the government has done with Chronicling America by himself!

Jim: And one of the real good hallmarks is, he was originally a computer guy and his search engine with the so called fuzzy search is the best that there is, accounting for all the different surname variants and place variants and typos that made their way into newspapers.

Fisher: Right. And of course you can look up all these things just by Googling for instance, "Idaho digitized newspapers," "California digitized newspapers," and it will bring you up all kinds of links. Many of them, like you say, go back to Chronicling America, but there are lots of free sites. And of course, if you don't find what you're looking for there, there are all the paid ones and those are incredible as well and they're continuing to grow. I still can't believe, Jim, how many newspapers are still not digitized, including several from my little hometown in Connecticut.

Jim: Yeah. There are trillions of pages of newspapers that were published historically. And thank goodness for the predecessor to Chronicling America, which was the US Newspaper program that started in the '80s, microfilming these newspapers that were literally crumbling from their acid content.

Fisher: Right.

Jim:And that's what preserved the products to be digitized, either by the for-paid services or by the free services, you know, that's the raw material.

Fisher: Exactly. All right, we're going to take a break, and when we return in three minutes, we're going to talk about the differences between the major pay newspaper sites, coming up on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 297

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Jim Beidler

Fisher: All right, back at it with “Ask Us Anything” on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show. And I'm talking to Jim Beidler from Pennsylvania. He's a specialist with Legacy Tree Genealogists. And he talks about newspaper research. And Jim, our question now is from Lorraine in San Francisco. And she says, "Are there real differences between the major pay newspaper sites?" Good question.

Jim: Of course.Absolutely there are. And this is a question that a lot of people ask, because you don't want to buy every subscription willy-nilly. Before we get to that, for just a second, and this helps you decide which one, on the Chronicling America site, there is also what they call the US newspaper directory. It’s kind of a master listing of all the newspapers in America. And you can drill it down by state, by county, even by city, so that's useful to know about. And also, Stanford University has what they call a Stanford Visualization where it’s a map and a slider where you can pick any year. The map shows up with dots where there were newspapers in that year. You can zoom in on the map and then click on it, and then it'll give you the titles that were in that town in that exact year.

Fisher:Isn't that something!

Jim: Those are both great free tools.

Fisher: Well, and it’s important to point out too that sometimes when they digitized the newspapers, sometimes there are missing individual additions of a paper. So, for instance, there was an obituary of a second great grandfather of mine in New York, but the New York Herald from that day was not in the batch from which the digitization was done. I had to find it by getting an original paper at the New York Public Library and then hand writing what it said, because they wouldn't allow me to make copies of anything.

Jim: Oh man, yeah.

Fisher: But at least you can get them, you know, and you know they're there and that's where the benefit of this index with Chronicling America comes from. All right, back to Lorraine's question about the major differences, real differences between the major pay newspaper sites.

Jim: Yes. Well, let's start with Newspapers.com. And it has a very good selection of newspapers. It has good tools if you're collaborating with one of more other people.You can set things up that you can clip an article electronically and then send that to everybody in your group.

Fisher: Yes, okay. And which of these major sites has the most newspaper pages?

Jim: Well, that is a closely guarded trade secret amongst them. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

Jim: I think right now, it is Newspapers.com.

Fisher: Okay.

Jim: But they all have different ones that they have struck deals with. Their main competitor is Genealogy Bank. They started actually as a clipping services for businesses.

Fisher: Right.

Jim: They were the first to do foreign language newspapers. Now, both they and Newspapers.com have foreign language newspapers. They each have also created a second tier of their subscriptions. Up until the 1920's, everything is in public domain. You can get a copy of it, you can put it out there. From the 1920's through 1964, there are different copyright rules and the way around this is Newspapers.com, Genealogy Bank, they both are working with publishers to essentially license that content between the '20s and the '60s.

Fisher: Okay. And what about NewspaperArchive.com?

Jim: Yeah, Newspaper Archive, they also have quite a few newspapers that they were the initial digitizers of, but I get to them through Find My Past.

Fisher: Right.

Jim:Find My Past has at least the newspaper archive database.

Fisher: So there's a good question, some great answers. Thanks so much, Jim. I wish we had more time on this, so maybe some time in the future, we'll bring it back and we'll talk about all that's available through digitized papers. Thanks so much, and we appreciate it.

Jim: I appreciate being on, thank you.

Fisher: And if you have a question for any of our expert guests on “Ask Us Anything”just email that question to [email protected]. Well, that's our show for this week. Hope you got a lot from it. Catch the podcast if you missed any of it on iTunes, iHeart Radio and ExtremeGenes.com. Talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

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