Our past is now at your fingertips in the form of a remarkable new tool that can search our archives.
Consider this small item, written in the old capitalization style, which appeared on an inside page of the Jan. 30, 1943 edition of what was then The Schenectady Gazette:
“Kirk Douglas, son of Mrs. Harry Demsky, 1157 Parkwood boulevard, will leave tomorrow for Notre Dame university, South Bend, Ind. to commence training toward an ensign’s commission in the U.S. navy. He has been visiting his family and friends here for the past few days.
“Douglas is a graduate of Wilbur Lynch High school, Amsterdam; St. Lawrence university and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. While at St. Lawrence university, he was the undefeated wrestling champion, president of the student body and was mentioned in “Who’s Who Among American Students.”
“Douglas has just left Katherine Cornell’s production of ‘Three Sisters,’ now running on Broadway. Previous he acted in the Broadway production of ‘Spring Again’ of which he was stage manager.”
This story isn’t terribly remarkable, but it is a sweet reminder of the connection this Hollywood icon has to Amsterdam.
I didn’t find this story in our old newspaper morgue, a room of green filing cabinets filled with stories clipped out of the paper and carefully folded away into yellow envelopes. Our clip file doesn’t go back that far and even if it did, young Kirk Douglas’ article would have been considered too inconsequential for the librarians to cut out. After all, he wasn’t a big Hollywood star then; he was really just Mrs. Harry Demsky’s son.
Google helped me find this old Kirk Douglas story in our newspaper. Thanks to computer technology, the online search was fast and easy and took me directly to a digital reproduction of the story itself as it appeared on the page on that date. The file included the entire day’s paper and I scanned the headlines from the day before launching another archive search.
Reporters and editors here have been spending quite a bit of time trolling this new digital archive, one we launched about a week ago on our Web site, www.dailygazette.com. It allows us, and our readers, to go back into our archives in a way never before possible.
Until now, the public needed to go to the local library and scan reels of microfilm to research old editions of The Gazette. Searches often took hours and sometimes yielded little.
The new search is free and comes courtesy of Google, the Internet giant, which is digitally scanning the microfilm reels that contain our old papers into its database. The work, undertaken via an agreement we have with Google, essentially puts our microfilm online. We’re not alone; hundreds of other newspapers have contracted with Google to have their archives digitized this way.
This digitized version of our old reels of microfilm is especially valuable because Google is using “optical character recognition” (OCR) technology that allows you to search for a particular word or name.
Google hasn’t completed work on our microfilm, but enough has been pumped into the database to demonstrate its research value. To date, about 7.6 million Gazette articles between the years 1920 and 1997 have been processed so far, with 2.1 million scanned with OCR technology that allows easy searching.
Eventually, the Google database will contain Gazettes from the year of our founding, in 1894, to August of 1997, when we stopped using microfilm to archive our papers. Stories printed since then are available via Newsbank, the Web-based archiving company that contracts with us to sell our articles. And if you’re looking for something we’ve posted on our Web site, there’s a special search engine for that. The starting point for any of the three searches in www.dailygazette.com.
People who love researching their family’s history should love this new Google search, which makes it easy to find far more than marriage notices, birth announcements and obituaries. If we printed a story about your great-grandmother winning a blue ribbon at the county fair, the search will take you to the story. And if she got arrested for cattle rustling, you’ll find that out too.
A few caveats: Google hasn’t developed technology that will allow you to easily print an article once you find it. Not all the papers have yet been scanned into the database so there will be gaps. And the search technology is imperfect, not always correctly translating the characters it reads.
But what’s available now is a good start toward making good use of our archives’ rich resources.
Reach Gazette Managing Editor Judy Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org