Archives or online? Thankfully, we can have both. As Heather has mentioned recently, the fact that a lot of archival material is finding its way onto the internet means that it will be more accessible to researchers with families, who can’t spend months away from home. And to people in remote locations, who may have different points of view. And to people who can’t quit their “day job,” but want to learn about a particular aspect of the past. And to amateurs: people who do history for the love of it.
Since we’re talking about archives and amateurs, I thought I should mention an amateur archive that has been invaluable to me, but that may not be well-known to people who haven’t done research in upstate New York. It’s a multi-terabyte database of historical newspapers from New York state, that goes by the unintuitive name “Old Fulton NY Post Cards.” I was told about it by the Records Management Officer in Ontario County. She said, “you’ve searched Fulton already, of course.” And I, of course, said, “what?”
Run by a former IT professional named Tom Tryniski, the site has grown from a small collection of digitized post cards, to a collection of over 15 million newspaper pages, covering 342 newspapers, spanning the entire nineteenth and twentieth centuries (1797-2004). The largest collections are from Onondaga and Cayuga Counties; Oswego County (where Fulton is located) has 25, Oneida 27, and other western counties are well represented. But so is Manhattan, with 17 papers including the New York Sun (1843-1945).
The site is free. On the instruction page, there’s a link to a page where you can donate via Paypal, complete with a snapshot of the website’s staff, which consists of Tom wearing four different costumes. The newspapers have been scanned with “production grade Wicks and Wilson Microfilm scanners,” from films obtained from the State of New York Newspaper Project. The instruction page also announces “More Data Is Added Every Sunday Night,” which based on the volume of material here, must be true.
The interface is whimsical, but the search functions are state-of-the-art and powerful. And you can download the newspaper pages as pdfs. The instruction page describes the use of search terms, wildcards, and more complicated issues like phonic searching, stemming, and variable term weighting. There’s also a graphic, clickable index of newspapers, which can be downloaded as an Excel spreadsheet complete with date ranges. Old Fulton NY Post Cards is clearly a labor of love. We’re very lucky there are people who love doing this kind of thing, both professionally and also nights and weekends!