Feb 29, 2016

What Is Black and White and Read All Over?

(Genealogy Gems from Allen County Public Library Monthly Newsletter – February 29, 2016)

Curt Witcher
by Curt B. Witcher, Genealogy Dept. Library Manager

A few may join me in remembering this ol’ saying popular more than a half a century ago when I was a little boy. What’s Black and White, and Read All Over? we’d ask. The answer was, of course, the hometown newspaper, delivered to one’s front porch step, sometimes even wrapped in protective red butcher paper, making the jingle that much funnier read all over and *red* all over. Most born in the last decade would have been stumped by the entire jingle as sales of actual newspapers have waned, and many get almost all of their news online.

Taking a look back, though, it is evident that newspapers have been a part of our parents’ and grandparents’ lives – indeed, most of our families’ lives – for many generations. As has been stated in this ezine more than a few times, newspapers are so critical for thorough genealogical research because they chronicle the lives and events of the communities in which they were published. The legacy newspapers, as well as the contemporary small town newspapers, provide amazing family details beyond the hatched, matched, and dispatched columns. One may read about local winners in such events as corn-scoring contests; one may find out who did not attend Sunday services; and one may learn whose out-of-town relatives were visiting for a few days.

Newspaper Archives Benefits
There are other contextual benefits to reading old newspapers for a particular time and place. One can learn about the religious, educational, benevolent, and other organizations that were active in a community. Knowledge of such entities is a first step toward seeking access to any records those entities may have created. National and state news is reported from a very local perspective. Knowledge of community activities, from barn raisings and floods to parades and social events, can provide one with a clearer picture of what life was like for an ancestral family. Undoubtedly, if one wants to know what life was like for a particular ancestor, identify any (or all!) extant newspapers for the geographic area and time period, and peruse them.

Online Newspaper Archives
Access to newspapers, particularly historical editions, is continually improving. Many researchers are familiar with and These two subscription websites contain extremely large newspaper archives, and are available for use in The Genealogy Center as well as all other Allen County Public Library locations. Indeed, many libraries and research facilities nation-wide have access. claims to provide access to tens of millions of searchable newspaper pages dating as far back as the 1700s while boasts more than 3,100 historical newspapers, covering the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, and Panama from the 1700s-2000s.

Taking advantage of the tens of millions of newspaper pages can really bring one’s family to life. After my father’s passing two years ago, I decided to see how much information I could find about his life that I didn’t know before. Just searching the Jasper Herald on, provided information that was remarkable. I learned of a school he attended, albeit for a short period of time, that he never mentioned to me or my siblings; I read of some school successes including an honor roll listing as a junior in high school and a Dean’s List mentioning his freshman year of college; and I saw an article in which my father and a friend were distinguished with their scouting Life badges. I also discovered a number of articles I had not read before, acknowledging and confirming information I already knew about him. Known information articulated from different points of view is frequently enlightening.

We can expect these large, online newspaper archives to grow. Indeed, less than a year ago, penned a deal with the Gannett media company to digitize more than eighty daily newspapers from across the United States. Through the online property,, Ancestry and Gannett will deliver more than 100 million additional full-page images of historical newspapers. As impressive as this growth in pay-for-view is, one should remember that there are a growing number of freely accessible newspaper projects in nearly every corner of the country, and they are equally impressive.

In previous issues of this ezine one can find mention of the Library of Congress’s national newspaper digitizing program, Chronicling America. At , one can access nearly 10.5 million newspaper pages. A number of searching options make it relatively convenient to narrow to a particular subject or person in a specific time period. Searching the Fowler, Missouri’s World’s Cresset for September 12, 1907, one finds such notable activities as families coming to visit; individuals interested in relocating in the community; and where community members went to visit, which family members they saw, and when they returned. Also included in that one issue were various churches™ activities, a roll of honor, and business news relating to a number of community members.

On the 8th of this month, it was announced that the Milledgeville (GA) Historic Newspapers Archive was enhanced. The award winning Hoosier State Chronicles surpassed more than 750,000 Indiana newspaper pages available for viewing and research in January of this year. An index of nearly a century of Evangelical Messenger obituaries is available on the website. The Detroit News Index on provides access to more than one million index cards arranged alphabetically by subject and covering a time period from the late 1800’s to the late 1990’s. The list could go on for many screens. Clearly digitized newspapers are increasingly abundant, and I trust equally clear is our need to access them for the rich information they provide about the lives and times of our ancestors.

ACPL Genealogy Classes
You will notice further on in this newsletter that on Saturday, March 26th, one of my colleagues will be offering a newspaper-themed presentation entitled, Finding Women in Newspapers. It will be yet another opportunity to become more skilled in identifying, accessing, and using online newspaper data. Find out more about your ancestors™ lives, build more meaningful contexts for life in earlier generations, and discover more record possibilities by actively seeking and using newspapers in your family history research. Let newspapers be the town-criers in your genealogical endeavors.

Visit Allen County Public Library Genealogy’s website: ACPL Genealogy Center to learn more about their genealogy collections and information.