I am preoccupied with the final editing of Gypsy and the Bird Man, a cultural family history. I wrote about my mother’s fund raisers and realized my memory lacked specifics. Then I remembered an online source that might help: http://www.Newspapers.com.
Over the decades my least favorite part of research has been finding news articles. First I sought whether the paper existed on microfilm, and made an interlibrary loan request. When the reel appeared, often weeks later, I had to roll through page by page so my eyes would catch the information.Few papers had indexes, and even then they were too general to help. Many times I went on hope and spent hours in a dark room with little reward. The machines operated unreliably, their images not always clear.
Not so today! On newspapers.com I can search on a name or theme, a date, and a location. At first try I discovered the key local paper required an extra fee, but that proved worth the cost for a six-month subscription. For one search I used:
“Clarence Stasz,” because in the 1950s women identified as Mrs. Husband’s Name. The quote signs were to limit the results. Otherwise there would be unrelated Clarences or Staszes. For the 1980s, I used “Mary Stasz” because styles changed with the woman’s movement.
1950-1958, the likely date range of events
Camden, NJ, the location for the newspaper
The results more than satisfied. One of my mother’s charities was the Celebrity Nook, a booth for a hospital bazaar. I had vague memories of a bedroom filling up with items, such as an ivory-and-redwood Madonna or a monogramed handkerchief from Joan Crawford. Now I had a date, 1952, and an extensive list of donors and gifts. Generals, cardinals, politicians, movie stars, and baseball players made donations ranging from the thoughtful and valuable to the self-advertising.
According to one article my mother sent letters to 175 people and received only one rejection. My mother was a fabulous public relations person, and a fabulist as well. I’m not sure she made so many requests, nor that only one, “a state politician,” refused. Nonetheless, I could now illustrate how clever she was and why her booth raised so much money.
I searched on my name and discovered some photographs of events I had forgotten: my demonstrating at an archery contest, Phillies baseball players at our house, and my attending a UN meeting in New York. These were from my early teens, a time I recall more angst and anger than the pleasure of shooting arrows in the summertime.
The site has other benefits as well. It covers papers throughout the country, some back to the 1800s. Many papers from early settlement days in the smallest towns appear. A convenience is one can clip the article, save it, send it by e-mail, or attach it somewhere in Ancestry.com. Imagine the potential if you are a genealogist who wants to add depth to your history. For historians or writers, the uses are endless.
The one downside for researchers is some print runs are incomplete. My mother’s first husband died in an accident in 1935. To my dismay, the local Indiana paper for the month he died is missing, so I have only my imagination and his death certificate to fill in the story.