Damage reports are surfacing in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Today we discuss how two Texas library collections have fared, and disaster recovery strategies for genealogy researchers. I’ve got a fantastic get-started video tip for those trying to rescue documents, photos, and other family heirlooms–and the two steps everyone should take to protect their priceless genealogical collections.
Port Aransas, Texas
My heart goes out to those who have been in the paths of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma recently. Knowing I live in Texas, many of you have asked how my family is doing. I’m happy to report that the storms didn’t reach those of us here north of Dallas. However, our daughter Hannah and her husband, while thankfully safe after evacuating from their home on the Texas shore, suffered the loss of their car and other possessions, and Hannah’s workplace was destroyed. They are now part of the relief and recovery efforts, and look forward to when they will be able to return to their home, which is currently uninhabitable. We feel very blessed that they are safe and sound, and our prayers go out to all who suffered losses.
Disaster Recovery for Genealogy Libraries
Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research, Houston, TX. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view.
As lives are secured and order begins to be restored in devastated areas, I’ve wondered how various genealogy libraries and archives have fared. Genealogy Gems listener Chris emailed me with an alert that the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research in Houston, Texas has suffered some damage. “So sad for genies!” she writes. Indeed! The Clayton is one of the top public library genealogy research centers in the United States.
Not wanting to disturb their recovery efforts with a phone inquiry, I’ve turned to Google searching and social media for a status report. The Houston Public Library Foundation states that the Clayton is among one of 10 library locations that are “unable to open due to various building damages.” The Clayton Library Friends Facebook page offers more specifics–and this hopeful report:
“Yes, there was some flooding at Clayton Library and according to Susan Kaufman, Manager, Clayton Library is closed this week. Clayton Library staff will be deployed to other libraries that are open.
Clayton Library did suffer some water damage but it was not really that bad. They just need to decide how best to proceed since they were planning on doing renovations soon anyway.”
CityofHouston.news tells us what Clayton staff may be doing at other library branches: “The services and resources that are available at your library system include free access to WiFi and computers, one-on-one assistance with filling out applications and forms, and access to the expertise of library archivists who can assist you in preserving and saving precious family memorabilia such as books, letters and photographs that may have been damaged in the storm.”
Chris’ email encourages us to support the recovery effort for Houston’s libraries through the Houston Public Library Foundation: here’s the link she sent to their donation portal.
Port Arthur Public Library, Port Arthur, Texas. Image from library website.
Down on the coast, another library system wasn’t so fortunate. The Port Arthur Library will remain closed for months, reports the Port Arthur News. “The Port Arthur Public Library was one of many buildings hit hard by Harvey,” states an article by L.V. Salinas. “It sustained flood damage and the subsequent mold issue inundated buildings often face afterward. It also sustained substantial damage and loss of property of its books, computer equipment, archives and more.”
Crews are working to clean up and preserve what they can. High priority is being given to their historical and genealogical resources: “One of the costlier processes was the freeze-drying of irreplaceable items like genealogy records, microfilm, Port Arthur historical photos and collections. The intent, as performed by companies contracted by the city, was to prevent any further damage from taking place, kill the bacteria that’s present and preserve the items long enough for a transference of information by experts.”
The Port Arthur History Collection is proudly described on the library website; it includes a collection of historic photos that were lovingly organized by volunteers and placed in archival-quality storage. “It’s one of our highest buy testosterone medication priorities,” states a library official in the article. “It’s time sensitive, and it has to happen now….We have to preserve it now.”
Disaster Recovery for Genealogy Researchers
As genealogists, we to have our personal and precious libraries and archives. We build trees in software–some of us spending hundreds or thousands of hours on them. We may have files, books, and other research materials. Many of us are family archivists: the stewards of priceless original family documents, photos, and other artifacts. Here’s some level-headed counsel for after a disaster strikes–and here’s what the rest of us should be doing now, before another disaster.
After a Disaster: Take It One Step at a Time
If you’ve been affected by a recent disaster, I’d like to share this fantastic, level-headed advice from Rennee Tallent, Galveston Historical Foundation’s Manager of Historic Collections (Galveston, Texas was hit by a hurricane in 1900–the “deadliest natural disaster in American history”):
I love her compassionate advice:
“Walking into [your home after a disaster] is very overwhelming. Try to take a deep breath and think about the things that matter most to you and what your priorities are. Take it one piece at a time: after you’ve finished that one, move on to the next.” -Rennee Tallent, Galveston Historical Foundation’s Manager of Historic Collections
Start your recovery efforts with whatever matters most to you, Renee says. But she reminds us that certain items are more vulnerable to destruction than others, so try to also focus on things made out of paper and photographs, then cloth, then wood. Leave your china, silver, and glassware until these other items have been stabilized.
Before Disaster Strikes: Digitize and Back It Up!
If a disaster strikes, most of us won’t have the time to grab all our genealogy research files, photographs, and other precious heirlooms. But many of these items are one-of-a-kind–unless we make them two-or-more-of-a-kind!
As family archivists, we can best preserve our past by:
Digitizing it. Make high-quality digital scans of original documents and photos. Take digital pictures of three-dimensional heirlooms such as clothing, handicrafts, even quilts.
Backing up your digital files. Should a disaster occur–whether storm, theft, or fire–your computer may suffer the same fate as any original documents and heirlooms in your home. So I recommend investing in an automated, cloud-based backup service for your computer.
For a few dollars a month, a cloud-based backup service will continually back up your computer files to a remote server. In the event of any loss (including a computer crash), you can download them again. Having a digitized version of those original Civil War letters or photos isn’t quite the same as the real thing–but it’s so much better than having them disappear entirely. And if you’re like me, your computer doesn’t just house your photos and research files. It may have hundreds or even thousands of work files, personal files, music, or video files and more.
I use Backblaze for my personal computer and to back up thousands of Genealogy Gems audio, video, and other files. Backblaze is made for everyday consumers: it’s affordable and easy to use. Do your research yourself and choose the best cloud-based backup for you (click here to read the 8 features you should be watching for).
Our Service “Happiness” Manager, Lacey, experienced first hand the benefits of having her computer backed up:
Right after our Genealogy Gems seminar in Dallas in early August, I came home, sat down to work, and discovered my laptop had died. I tried everything I could find to get it going again (thanks to Google search results) but it couldn’t be revived. Thankfully, I had both Backblaze and Dropbox installed on my computer, and I didn’t lose any files at all. I was able to get everything back! Even my Google account saved all of my settings and bookmarks for my Chrome browser, so when I got my new computer, just about everything was restored as though nothing had happened. I was SO RELIEVED! Planning ahead really paid off!
(If you decide to go with my favorite, Backblaze, thanks for clicking here to purchase it. The modest commission we receive supports the free information I provide on this website and the Genealogy Gems podcast.)
My sincere wishes for the safety of your families–and your family history.
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 26 Video and Show Notes
Live show air date: September 24, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history.
Newspaper Navigator is a new free online tool for finding images and photos in old newspapers at Chronicling America. It doesn’t work the way the Library of Congress website works, so in this episode I show you how to navigate the Newspaper Navigator. It’s a fun session that will have you finding new newspaper gems in no time!
About LOC Chronicling America
Chronicling America is sponsored jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress. It features free digitized historic newspapers spanning 1789-1963.
Newspapers Contain Imagery such as:
You may not find the newspaper that you need for your research in the Chronicling America digitized collection. In those cases, turn to the US Newspaper Directory. It catalogs newspapers published 1690-present. Click the US Newspaper Directory button on the Chronicling America website to search. The catalog will tell you where known copies of the paper can be accessed.
Uses of Newspaper Images
Most of the old newspapers featured in Chronicling America include images. And because these old images are in the public domain, they are an ideal complement to family histories.
If you are very fortunate you may find photos or images of your ancestors, their homes, or other things specifically about your family.
Newspaper images are also a wonderful source when you need a photo or image to represent an important idea or item when telling your family’s story, whether in a blog post, article, book, video, PowerPoint presentation or other medium. Example of this would include a photograph of a blacksmith shop in the 1890s in the area where your ancestor worked as a blacksmith, or an advertisement for a Sears home kit just like the one your grandfather built.
Chronicling America’s Newspaper Navigator
The Newspaper Navigatordataset currently consists of 1.5 million pieces of extracted visual content from 16,358,041 historic newspaper pages in Chronicling America.
The visual content was identified using an object detection model trained on annotations of World War 1-era Chronicling America pages, made by staff and volunteers.
This “visual content recognition model” detects the following types of content:
It also includes text corresponding to the imagery, identified by Optical Character Recognition (OCR).
Searching the Newspaper Navigator
You can search all images with captions. The results will be returned in a Gallery view featuring up to 100 images per page. This results format makes it very easy to quicky browse the images.
You can also switch to List view which lists the images along with the text retrieved by OCR.
How to Find Images Faster in Old Newspapers
Run a search in Newspaper Navigator of the word baseball and then run the same search in Chronicling America. A comparison of the results highlights the between Chronicling America and Newspaper Navigator when it comes to finding images in old newspapers.
The search results returned by the Newspaper Navigator are solely focused on photos and images. This means you have a fraction of the number results to review. Another big advantage of Newspaper Navigator over Chronicling America is the size of the image. Newspaper Navigator gives you just the large image to review, while Chronicling America shows you a thumbnail of the entire page with images so small that you must click and load the page to analyze them.
Images appear much smaller at Chronicling America and require you to click through to the page for closer examination.
Start by running a keyword search. (example: Blacksmith). On the results you can filter the results by Location and Years. Because the search currently doesn’t support Boolean operators or other types of search operators, you may need to run a few different versions of the same search to get a complete picture of the potential results. We’ll talk more about search strategies in just a moment.
Once you find an image you want, click to open it. The pop-up box offers these four buttons:
Download Image – Downloads a high-resolution copy to your hard drive.
Cite this – Generates a source citation that is automatically copied to your computer clipboard. Then you can simply paste it as needed. You can also cite the dataset by including the image URL, plus a citation to the website such as “from the Library of Congress, Newspaper Navigatordataset: Extracted Visual Content from Chronicling America.” According to the website, all images are in the public domain and free to use. Learn more about Rights and Reproductions at https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/about/.
Learn about this newspaper – Takes you to the Chronicling America catalog listing for the newspaper from which the image comes.
View Full Issue – Takes you to the complete newspaper issue at the Chronicling America website.
Click the buttons to select the options
My Collection at Newspaper Navigator
You can gather and save collections of the newspaper images you find using Newspaper Navigator. Start by running a search. On the results page click to select the desired images, then click the Save button. This will generate a URL for that collection and copy it to your clipboard. Since Newspaper Navigator doesn’t currently allow you to log in and return to your past searches during different sessions, I suggest pasting the URL into a research log for future reference.
Train My AI Navigators at Newspaper Navigator
A unique feature of the Chronicling America Newspaper Navigator is the ability to “train” the site to search for you. It does this through machine learning.
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 26
How to Train My AI Navigator:
Run a search
Click to select desired images
Click Save to save the collection of images
Click Train My AI Navigators
Newspaper Navigator will deliver a new set of images based on your selected images. On that page, select additional images that you want by clicking toward the top (+) of the image.
Click unwanted images by clicking toward the bottom (-) of the image.
Click to select the images you don’t want the AI Newspaper Navigator to find.
Click Train My AI Navigator again
Continue adding and subtracting images as needed to further train the system
Type a name for this training session in the Name My AI Navigator The saved AI Navigator name will appear in the Select an AI Navigator column
Click Save to generate a URL for this training session and paste into your research log.
Click + New AI Navigator to create a new training session spring boarding from the first
Click Clear & Restart to start a new search
Newspaper Navigator Search Strategies
Newspaper Navigator doesn’t, as of this writing, support Boolean Operators or offer an advanced search field. Here are some strategies that can help you have more success in searching the site:
Don’t use search operators, use variations
Even a space between initials can make a difference.
Each variation has the potential to deliver a different result in newspaper images.
Considering how many variations there can be to a name, when searching for ancestors try searching first on the name of their town or location. If there are still quite a few results, you can then filter to only newspapers from their state. I search the town name first because an article may appear in a newspaper from a different state. In the case of my search for McMinnville, I received a small, manageable results list. Had it been large and included both McMinnville, TN and McMinnville, OR, filtering to just Oregon would be helpful.
Test your search theories
Analyze your results and try variations based on what you are learning about what Newspaper Navigator is focusing on.
Search for word strings
In testing my search theories, I learned that Newspaper Navigator did not do well with multiple words that do not appear right next to each other. Therefore, I tried to find word strings that pertained to my family that I could search for such as the name of a business: Consolidation Coal Company.
Search for Photos
Another interesting search you can run is the word Photo. On the results page filter to the state and years that apply to your research.
Use List View to Find on Page
When dealing with a large number of results, List View can help speed up the review process. List View also displays the text generated by OCR. While not perfect, it can be helpful. Use your computer’s Find on Page feature (control + F on a PC, Command + F on Mac) and type in a keyword such as a surname. This will take you instantly to all occurrences of that word in the text on the page. Click the next page and run it again.
Find images quickly by word search in the List View
Learn More About Machine Learning
In the menu click Data Archaeology to learn more about machine learning and the Newspaper Navigator project.
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Answers to Your Live Chat Questions
One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.
Bert asks: Are some newspapers only available for a fee on websites such as Ancestry Lisa’s Answer: Yes, several genealogy websites have exclusive collections of digitized old newspapers. You can usually search or browse the site for free to determine if they have newspapers from the location and time frame that you need before you make a purchase. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve had good success with:
We are compensated if you make a purchase after using our links above (at no additional cost to you.) Thank you for supporting this free show by doing so!
Christine asks: (What is the ) newspaper navigator date range? Lisa’s answer: Here’s a break down of the dates:
Chronicling America covers 1789 – 1963 (digitized newspapers) Newspaper Navigator covers 1900 – 1963 (photos in digitized newspapers) U.S. Newspaper Directory at Chronicling America covers 1690 – present (catalog, only some are digitized and those are part of Chronicling America.)
Rachel asks: I have an ancestor that was in the social pages all the time in our local newspaper in the 1800’s. I thought it would make a great book or video, any ideas on how to showcase them the best? Lisa’s answer: I love both of those ideas and I cover many more in my Premium Membership video Inspiring Ways to Captivate the Non-Genealogists in Your Life. Personally I have found that short photo books and short videos that tell one story are received the best by family members. They both offer opportunities to share and highlight items from newspapers. Learn more about quickly and easily making family history videos by watching Elevenses with Lisa episode 16. And I strongly encourage Premium Members to watch these two videos:
lagomcurt asks: Are local small-town papers included in the collection? Lisa’s answer: Yes.
June asks: When you download it ask what to save as. What is your suggestion? Lisa’s answer: I think you’ll find that JPEG is currently the only option in the Save as Type drop-down menu.
Sharon asks: Does Chronicling America have foreign language newspapers in America? Lisa’s answer: Absolutely! Searching in the language will help retrieve items.
Ohio Waisenfreund newspaper at Chronicling America
Pat asks: Does it have Irish American newspapers? Lisa’s answer: Chronicling America does have Irish American newspapers. If they were published between 1900-1963 then they will be searchable by Newspaper Navigator. I would also recommend searching all newspapers (online and offline) by clicking the U.S. Newspaper Director button at Chronicling America. Then search by ethnicity (Irish) and Material Type (online.) You will find that some are linked to other websites where they can be found online. If you see an image of a newspaper on the catalog page, then you know it is available on Chronicling America in a digital format.
Search for Irish newspapers online at US Newspaper Directory
Mark asks: Can the wash out pictures be enhance with the new MyHeritage Photo with the sharping feature and colorization to make it a better final experience with images? Lisa’s answer: Yes indeed. Because the original quality will be poor and with low dots per inch (dpi) it likely won’t improve the way an original photo would. However enhancing and coloring just takes a few seconds and definitely improves the image. Even better, it often makes the print much more readable. I use it on documents too. Click here to try MyHeritage.
Newspaper photo enhanced and colorized with MyHeritage
Kathy asks: If you do a search in English, will it find the search term(s) in newspapers that were written in German? Lisa’s answer: No. You will need to search in German to pick up on any German text. However, if the image itself is similar, My AI Navigator should pick it up.
Lucinda asks: Who is in your necklace and the photo behind you, Lisa? Lisa’s Answer: It’s my maternal grandmother’s high school graduation photo.
Please Leave a Comment or Question Below
I really want to hear from you. Did you enjoy this episode? Do you have a question? Please leave it below. You can also call and leave a voice mail at (925) 272-4021 and I just may answer it on the show!
Digitized Irish historical maps are among new genealogy records online. Also: Irish civil registrations; Irish, British, and Scottish newspapers; Westminster, England Roman Catholic records; wills and probates for Wiltshire, England and, for the U.S., WWI troop transport photos, Tampa (FL) photos, Mayflower descendants, NJ state census 1895, western NY vital records, a NC newspaper, Ohio obituaries, and a Mormon missionary database.
Beautiful Irish historical maps
Findmypast.com has published two fantastic new Irish historical map collections:
Dublin City Ordnance Survey Maps created in 1847, during the Great Famine. “This large-scale government map, broken up into numerous sheets, displays the locations of all the streets, buildings, gardens, lanes, barracks, hospitals, churches, and landmarks throughout the city,” states a collection description. “You can even see illustrations of the trees in St Steven’s Green.”
Ireland, Maps and Surveys 1558-1610. These full-color, beautifully-illustrated maps date from the time of the English settlement of Ulster, Ireland. According to a collection description, the maps “were used to inform the settlers of the locations of rivers, bogs, fortifications, harbors, etc. In some illustrations, you will find drawings of wildlife and even sea monsters. Around the harbors, the cartographers took the time to draw meticulously detailed ships with cannons and sailors. Many of the maps also detailed the names of the numerous Gaelic clans and the lands they owned, for example, O’Hanlan in Armagh, O’Neill in Tyrone, O’Connor in Roscommon, etc.”
(Want to explore these maps? Click on the image above for the free 14-day trial membership from Findmypast.com!)
More Ireland genealogy records
Sample page, Ireland marriage registrations. Image courtesy of FamilySearch.
FamilySearch.org now hosts a free online collection of Ireland Civil Registration records, with births (1864-1913), marriages (1845-1870), and deaths (1864-1870). Images come from original volumes held at the General Register Office. Click here to see a table of what locations and time periods are covered in this database. Note: You can also search free Irish civil registrations at IrishGenealogy.ie.
Over 121,000 new Roman Catholic parish records for the Diocese of Westminster, England are now available to search on Findmypast.com in their sacramental records collections:
Parish baptisms. Over 94,000 records. The amount of information in indexed transcripts varies; images may provide additional information such as godparents’ names, officiant, parents’ residence, and sometimes later notes about the baptized person’s marriage.
Parish marriages. Nearly 9,000 additional Westminster records have been added. Transcripts include couples’ names, marriage information, and father’s names. Original register images may have additional information, such as names of witnesses and degree of relation in cases of nearly-related couples.
Parish burials. Transcripts include date and place of burial as well as birth year and death; images may have additional information, such as parents’ names and burial or plot details.
Findmypast has published a searchable PDF version of a published volume of thousands of London Marriage Licenses 1521-1869. Search by name, parish, or other keyword. A collection description says, “Records will typically reveal your ancestor’s occupation, marital status, father’s name, previous spouse’s name (if widowed) and corresponding details for their intended spouse.” Note: The full digital text of this book is free to search at Internet Archive.
Wills and Probate Index for Wiltshire, England
Explore more than 130,000 Wiltshire Wills and Probate records in the free Findmypast database, Wiltshire Wills and Probate Index 1530-1881. “Each record consists of a transcript that will reveal your ancestor’s occupation, if they left a will and when they left it,” says a description. “The original Wiltshire wills are held at the Wiltshire and Swindon Archive. The source link in the transcripts will bring you directly to their site where you can view their index and request an image. If you wish to view an image, you will have to contact Wiltshire Council and a small fee may be required for orders by post.”
The Tampa Photo Supply Collection includes more than 50,000 images of daily life and special events (weddings, graduations) taken by local commercial photographers between 1940 and 1990, primarily in West Tampa, Ybor City, and South Tampa.
Mayflower descendants. AmericanAncestors.org has published a new database of authenticated Mayflower Pilgrim genealogies: Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880. The collection includes the carefully-researched names of five generations of Mayflower pilgrim descendants.
New York. Ancestry.com has published a searchable version of a genealogy reference book, 10,000 Vital Records of Western New York, 1809-1850. According to a collection description, “The 10,000 vital records in this work were drawn from the marriage and death columns of five western New York newspapers published before 1850….Birth announcements were not published in these early newspapers, but many of the marriage and death notices mentioned birth years, birthplaces, and parents’ names, and where appropriate such data has been copied off and recorded here.”
North Carolina. The first 100 years of the Daily Tar Heel newspaper are now free to search in digitized format at the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center. The collection spans 1893-1992 and includes over 73,000 pages from more than 12,000 issues. Click here for a related news article.
Ohio. FamilySearch also now hosts an index to Ohio, Crawford County Obituaries, 1860-2004, originally supplied by the county genealogical society. Obituaries may be searched or browsed; images may include additional newspaper articles (not just obituaries).
Utah and beyond (Latter-day Saint). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) has published a database of early missionaries. It covers about 40,000 men and women who served between 1830 and 1930, and may link to items from their personal files, including mission registry entries, letters of acceptance, mission journal entries, and photos. Those who are part of FamilySearch’s free global Family Tree will automatically be notified about relatives who appear in this database, and may use a special tool to see how they are related. Others may access the original database here. Click here to read a related news article.
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