Tag Archives: historical newspapers

Newly searchable newspapers in Belgium

The Royal Library of Belgium has scanned and indexed ten historical newspapers from Belgium, and set up a search interface for them called BelgicaPress.
flemish-newspaper-1918
The newspapers currently include:
  • Courrier De L’Escaut (Le)
  • Echo De La Presse (L’)
  • Gazet Van Brussel Handelsblad (Het)
  • Indépendance Belge (L’)
  • Indépendance Belge (L’) (Edité en Angleterre)
  • Messager De Gand (Le)
  • Nieuwe Gids (De)
  • Nieuwe Standaard (De)
  • Nieuws Van Den Dag (Het)
While I don’t have a breakdown of the ranges of each paper, the database of all the papers together ranges from 1831 until 1950 – with a big caveat. While you will get search results for all matches in the database online, all results from 1919 until 1950 are only viewable from within the Library itself, due to copyright issues.

That caveat means the database is almost useless for me (at least online), since although I had a lot of family in Belgium, almost all of it arrived there in the 1920s.

That said, if you have a fairly unique surname (that isn’t translatable into Flemish or French), and you get many results from the 1919-1950 period, you might at least know its worth checking into and ask someone in Belgium to do a search in the library for you.

Of course, there are other things that would be interesting to search besides family names. You could search for your ancestral town name, and see if other people from your town are mentioned in the newspapers. you could also search for information on the Jewish communities there, by using search terms like Jew or Jewish (Jood and Joodse in Flemish, Juif in French). If there were major news items concerning the Jewish communities in other countries (such as pogroms) it’s possible those might also show up.

One final note. The site is, as would be expected in Belgium, is available to use in Flemish (NL) and French (FR). I discovered, however, that secretly it also works in English. While there’s no link from the Flemish or French versions of the site to the English version, use the link above and it will indeed go to an English version of the site. Sometimes it might forget you’re using it in English, and not everything is translated, but it’s not bad. It was definitely developed to work in English, even if they haven’t active that yet on the site. I wouldn’t be surprised if they make the English version available one day directly from their main site, but until then, the above link works.

If you find yourself on a page that is in Flemish or French and want to see if it’s in English, look at the URL in the address field at the top of your browser and see if it says “lang=FR” or “lang=NL” in the string. If so, just replace the FR or NL with EN and hit return.

The Ring of Trust

Illustration from 1891 article describing Jewish wedding in Pennsylvania
For those who have never looked at my bio on the right side of this page, my last name is Trauring. I’ve written a bit about the name change from Traurig (German for ‘sad’) to Trauring (German for ‘wedding ring’). While Trauring is a fairly unique name (show me a Trauring and it’s 99% likely I’ll show you how they’re related to me), it has an interesting quirk in doing online research. When researching online databases of newspapers, the name Trauring for some reason is commonly confused with the word Training. Depending on the quality of the scanned newspapers, the the quality of the optical-character-recognition (OCR) done on the scans, you’d be amazed how many hits are for the word Training and how few are for Trauring.

While skimming my Google+ feed recently, I came across an article by Kenneth Marks about the newspaper search site Elephind. Elephind is a newspaper search aggregator created by digital library developer DL Consulting in New Zealand. It provides a single search interface to multiple newspaper search sites, including the US Library of Congress’ Chronicling America site, and Australia’s Trove site. Currently the site claims access to 1,034 newspaper titles (and 1,099,175 newspaper issues). Most of those newspapers come from the two sites already mentioned (845 from Chronicling America and 111 from Trove), with other smaller local newspaper search sites included from the US, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

One of the annoying things about Chronicling America is that the search results don’t show the context of the hit, but rather just show a thumbnail of the page. Combine that with the unfortunately low level of OCR in the Chronicling America database, you spend a lot of time looking through false hits. For example, here is a search on Chronicling America for ‘trauring':

Chronicling America search results for ‘trauring’ (Click to Enlarge)
You might notice the red highlighting which is supposed to show where the hit occurs on the page, but I defy you to actually read any of that text. In order to figure out the context you need to click on the image and load the full version of the page and find the text on the page. With 2,060 results, you can imagine how much time it would take to go through all those pages.

Now let’s take a look at the Elephind results:

Elephind search results for Chronicling America for ‘trauring’ (Click to Enlarge)
The search was specifically restricted to Chronicling America, to try to get the same results. Oddly, instead of 2,060 results there are only two. If you take a close look at both sets of results you’ll notice that the two results are the same as the first two results on the Chronicling America site, although in reverse order. You’ll also notice that the first result on the Elephind site illustrates the general problem with searching OCRed databases for the name Trauring:
.. t ilio lowest possible cost. IT is today, with a fhcnltv of 83. a boarding patronage of 308, a student body of -138, and a plant worth $160,000, The Leading Trauring School for Girl;-, in Virginia. PAYS all charges for the y? ar, Including Tnblo Board, Room, Lights, 8leam Meat, I .au miry, Medie.il Atton tentiorr, Physical Culture and Tiiltlon …
Besides the general incomprehensibility of the text, you’ll notice the phrase ‘The Leading Trauring School for Girl’ is clearly supposed to have the word Training, not Trauring. Of course, the important thing to notice here is that the user interface actually does show you the context. I don’t need to load the image and look, I can immediately dismiss the search result, which is very welcome. Why there are only two results is a mystery, however.

Page found in The Evening Herald (click to load on Chronicling America)
The text recognition on the second result (from The Evening Herald of Shenandoah, PA) is a bit more readable, and while the story is not about my family, it is interesting in that it mentions Trauring in the following context:
After pronouncing two benedictions the Rabbi took in his hand the wedding ring, saying, as the ring was one entire mass, not separated but continuous, so their lives in the future should be one–a combination of love and faithfulness and unity. The ring is called in German “trauring,”–trau meaning trust, it ought to remind them that it was the ring of trust.
A very interesting interpretation of the word trauring, giving it more meaning that the simple definition ‘wedding ring’. The story is something very common in newspapers of the day (this article is from May 28, 1891), chronicling the big local social events, this one being a Jewish wedding in Shenandoah, PA, described as “one of the most brilliant affairs of the kind ever celebrated in this section of the country”. This wedding, between Lena Friedman and Simon Yedinsky, is described in great detail, has two illustrations, and even lists which guests gave which gifts. From a genealogical point of view these kinds of articles are sometimes goldmines. In my own research I’ve come across wedding descriptions that listed many relatives as guests, sometimes specifying them as such, and sometimes not, but all the information is useful.

Illustration from 1891 article describing Jewish wedding in Pennsylvania
Anyone have a good story on the meaning of their name? Share your story in the comments.

Finding local records

A recent tweet by Leland Meitzler caught my eye, linking to a post on his blog GenealogyBlog.com, that referenced an article by Allison Carter about researching roots in Newton, MA. I grew up in the town next to Newton, so I thought it would be interesting to see what the article was talking about. My family didn’t move to Massacusetts until the 1960s, so there was unlikely to be anything directly related to my family, but I’m always curious about new resources available online.

The article mentions that the City of Newton recently posted birth, marriage and death records, as well as city directories, online. The city scanned these documents and has made them available as PDF files on a new Genealogy page on their web site. They have birth, marriage and death records from 1635 up until 1899, and city directories from 1868 up until 1934. They say more will be added in the future. It’s nice to see a city making these records available to the public and I hope more communities will follow suit.

As I looked at the most recent City Directory from 1934 it occurred to me that as a researcher looking for Jewish ancestors, I was unlikely to find much from that far back. While Newton today has a large Jewish population, I don’t believe it had very much at all in the 1930s, and certainly not earlier. That made me think about the communities in the Boston area that had earlier Jewish populations – places like Lowell, Roxbury and Dorchester. Did these communities have records online? Like in many cities, Boston’s Jewish community had over the years started in the urban and industrial centers and moved out to the suburbs. This process is still continuing today.

I first searched for Lowell, as I know a family that has a long history there, and wanted to see if they would show up in any records. Some searching online turned up a Genealogy Resources page on a site run by the Center for Lowell History at the University of Massachusetts. One of the pages listed in the resources is Lowell – Vital Records 1865-1970. From there, there are pages for Births, Marriage Intentions and Deaths. Each one of those pages lets you look at the transcribed records (not the originals), but you need to know the year in order to find the record. There is no search. That can be fixed with a little help from Google of course. Searching Google for:

site:http://library.uml.edu/ SURNAME

will search the entire web site for the surname I specify (add site: before the web site URL, a space, and then the keyword(s) you are searching for). Indeed running this search on the surname of the family I was searching for found a page from the Marriage Intentions section in 1947 showing a couple I once knew, including the maiden name of the wife and the issue of the newspaper in which it was published. The page indicates that the index was created from marriage announcements in the Lowell Sunday Telegram, a newspaper that ceased publishing in 1952 (it was bought out by a competitor). One can go to the UMass library in Lowell and access these newspapers to see the original citation, but I was curious if the newspaper was available online.

GenealogyBank.com, which I’ve written about before, has thousands of newspapers online. I looked at their title list and while they list three other Lowell newspapers (all published in the 19th century), they do not have the Lowell Sunday Telegram.

I then checked out Chronicling America, a project to digitize historical newspapers run by the Library of Congress, but it appears they do not have any newspapers from Massachusetts (yet). They do, however, point to the fact that the Boston Public Library holds copies of the Lowell Sunday Telegram on both microfilm and in the original. Hopefully either GenealogyBank or Chronicling America will get around to scanning the Lowell Sunday Telegram one day. At least we know it is preserved in at least two libraries, and is on microfilm.

So what about the other towns in Massachusetts that had early Jewish communities? I can’t say I’ve been as lucky there in finding records. The flight of Jews from communities like Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan is well documented. One book which looks interesting (although I have not read) on this topic is The Death of an American Jewish Community: A Tragedy of Good Intentions which focuses specifically on these communities and was co-written by the former editor of The Jewish Advocate, Boston’s largest Jewish newspaper. The Jewish Advocate has been published since 1902 and their archives would certainly be important for anyone researching Jews in the Boston area for the past century. The Jewish Advocate actually does have an online archive, although it only has issues dating back to 1991, which means it is not very useful for researching these former major Jewish communities. JewishGen, however, does offer a Boston obituary database from 1905 to 2008 gleaned from the Jewish Advocate.

Another approach to researching these communities is to find people in the JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF). Most people think of the JGFF as only covering communities overseas, but you can add records to the database for any community, and indeed Dorchester, Lowell, Mattapan and Roxbury all have entries in the JGFF. See my earlier article on the JGFF if you’re not familiar with how it works.

So what’s the moral of this story? Especially if you have no Jewish roots and you just trudged through this article and the Jewish part doesn’t apply to your research? There are a lot of local resources available, if you spend the time to look for them. Other sites like USGenWeb can be useful in tracking down local records, as are specific sites like DeathIndexes.com, but in the end a bit of time and effort searching for the town you want to find records in is the best idea, as you never know where you might find them. The big record database sites like FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com are great, but sometimes the tiniest local site might actually have what you’re looking for…