Friday, February 25, 2011

Digitizing Kentucky Newspapers

I was recently asked by a library patron about the progress of digitizing Kentucky Newspapers. This lady was in the process of ordering several newspaper titles on microfilm via Interlibrary Loan, but she was on the phone with me because finding the exact title needed can be a little challenging. Kentucky is only one example, but as a state that many pioneers travelled through, demand for our early newspapers can be quite high. For those of you interested in borrowing Kentucky newspapers, the University of Kentucky loans out their newspaper microfilm via Interlibrary Loan on a daily basis. Depending on your library's location, the cost per title requested can range from free to $20. (International rates can run to $35)

 So, back to the lady's question. As we were locating the titles she needed (ILL requests have to have a title, not just a county plus "newspaper" in the title field), she produced a heavy sigh and asked if we would ever put these microfilmed newspapers online instead of having to go through all this each time - and she was in a location that allowed free loans - which speaks to the limitations of microfilm.

 I told her we were certainly working on it, and tried to explain that transferring microfilm to digital images was very possible, being accomplished as we spoke, but would take many years, and many sources of funding to accomplish - and that's just on behalf of one state. We all are well aware of the LDS Library's efforts at digitizing their collection in Utah, but as a small state with limited resources, I thought it would be helpful to showcase a few online sources already up for those of you interested in Kentucky Newspaper research. Many of these new resources have been possible through nationally funded grants - but the process put in place, and the wonderful images produced will hopefully serve to secure more funding to keep the projects going.
Links to Kentucky Newspapers online:

  • Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers - This is where the NDNP digitized Kentucky newspapers are deposited for access. This one is not just for Kentucky, but houses the images produced by other state recipients of the project grant. The images can be explored, cut, saved as images or pdfs - primed and ready for hardcore research!

  • Kentuckiana Digital Library - Statewide effort of fully searchable digitized issues not housed in the Chronicling America database. Of course, the Kentuckiana Digital Library is also known for its amazing photographic collection that grows each year.

For Microfilm:
Microfilm Ordering Database from the University of Kentucky - Just in case you would like a fairly complete list of the available Kentucky Newspapers on Microfilm - browsable by county and listed chronologically. This list is for PURCHASING reels of microfilm - that's right, you could own your own copy if you get the urge, but despite its original purpose, it is a wonderful resource for just browsing available newspaper titles - we use it a lot when helping patrons decide which title to order via ILL.

Since I'm not one of the digital experts, here is a video about newspaper digitization efforts at the University of Kentucky.


Friday Fav - For Black History Month

I ran across this anecdote as re-printed in the Falmouth Pendletonian, August 4, 1881. The paper it came from is a little known title from the Pendleton County Kentucky area. After a brief review, it appears to be a little more political in nature than the Falmouth Outlook that followed later and still exists today. I also found it interesting that less than 20 years after the Civil War, this border state county, very close to the Ohio River, was still publishing a prominent piece about the previous abolitionist movement - just under the masthead. Curious - perhaps a reason to further investigate the racial relations of this small county?
Anyway, a wonderful funny for a Friday afternoon! Sojourner Truth - gotta love this American heroine and national treasure!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Distinction of Honor @ Rootstech!

Stella, Mary Malinda or neither?
 Among the many amazing demonstrations, interviews and consultations available on the Rootstech exhibit hall floor, there was one consultation that I immediately signed up for prior to my arrival in Salt Lake: a one on one consultation with Maureen Taylor, aka the Photo Detective and author of the Last Muster. My appointment was scheduled for Friday afternoon at 2:45pm. For those who signed up, the instructions were clear. You were allowed a fifteen minute session and you should bring only one photo - either the original or scans of both sides. I knew exactly which photo I was going to bring along!

I normally shudder at travelling with original family heirlooms, but in this case, if anything happened to her, no one would be very sad. No one remembers this woman. Her name is not on the back and her face is not one we recognize - no one has recognized her in decades. The quality of the photo is so bad, I'm not sure anyone could recognize her....even back when the photo was first created.

As far as the woman's identity, I'm guessing that she was from the Cox, Mockbee or Allender families. She was in with these family heirlooms and chances are, she was a Kentucky gal since the
apparent time frame of photograph production meant these families were solidly in the Kentucky areas - possibly northern Kentucky. Her arms always looked stiff and her eyes were obscured. This led me to question whether the photo was a momento mori or post mortem photograph.

The production of the photo was extremely crude. It is a large tintype, over six inches in length and the image of the woman is jagged around the edges. Maureen agreed that this was a copy of an original photograph. In Maureen's analysis, she believed the photo to be a tintype copy of an original paper photograph. She was once framed because their is still an oval imprint around the image, but I don't believe she has been in a frame for many years. Maureen did not believe that she was a momento mori but rather a single cut out from a possible smaller picture that had a complex background - or possibly a cut out from a group photo. But then, Maureen gave our family gem the honor of all honors: she declared this tintype to be the ugliest one she'd ever seen!! I was in complete agreement. This poor woman's photo has always elicited gasps or groans when shown among the family, and frankly, I think she is best suited for Halloween display.
Stella Allender?

However, despite her ugliness, she will remain in the family collection. After all she is ours, even though we cannot give her a name. My guess is that she is a young woman in the family that died either as a teenager or as a young mother and this was the only photo they had of her. They obviously loved her very much to endure and even frame this monstrosity. Based on the time frame that Maureen pinpointed, the 1880s, I'm leaning toward a young woman by the name of Stella Allender. She died somewhere around the turn of the last century as a teenager and there is only one other small photo that was reproduced of her and passed among the family. Thankfully, a much clearer photo of Stella which has been sometimes incorrectly identified as a young picture of her style would be way off since her grandmother was born in the 1830s. If it's not Stella, it might be Mary Malinda Mockbee, another young lady that passed away in 1879 from typhoid at the age of 15. Both women died young, childless and were only half remembered by their siblings or nieces/nephews. However, the remembrance was short lived and didn't travel across the generations. I only know of them because of my research. In fact, Mary Malinda's gravestone had been missing for years until I dug up the pieces around a stand of peonies that grew near her grandparents graves. The full story of her gravestone rediscovery can be found here at my other blog: Musings of a Kentucky Gardner.

Maureen seemed so delighted with the ugliness of this bad tintype that she took some photos and has promised to blog about it as one of her Rootstech finds. I will keep an eye out for this one, but she is a very busy gal....maybe she'll keep it as a Halloween post?! BTW, I am totally serious about is a really cool honor to be in possession of the ugliest tintype that the Photo Detective has ever seen! But there in lies the challenge - if any of you have an uglier one, you've got to get it in front of Maureen! 
Happy Sleuthing!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Stonetown Haven - A New Beginning

 Kentucky's slave history is a very unique one. As a border state we had both large slaveholders and a large number of abolitionists. Harriet Beecher Stowe witnessed her first slave auction in the northern part of our state. We were so split during the Civil War that we had two governments. It is therefore no surprise that our countryside is dotted with small freed slave communities that sprung up before and after the end of slavery. The sad fact associated with these small communities is their omission from local histories and history books. Not all histories ignore their existence, but they were not preserved nor noted for future generations in the same manner as early white settlements were once they were no longer inhabited. I am delighted to see this fact change as more groups are interested in restoring these little phoenix communities that rose from the ashes.

Yesterday, the public library in my community invited a local historian to speak about recent preservation efforts within our county. The Scott County Public Library drew over 50 attendees when Shirl Marks brought to light the restoration efforts surrounding an original structure in the former community of Stonetown. According to Marks the freed slave community in the Stamping Ground area encompassed several roads: Stonetown, Locust Fork, Main St, Woodlake, etc. Some of the local surnames associated with this former community were: Samuels, Patterson, West, Thomas, Fisher, Young, Phoenix, Fishback, Dudley, Carter, and Bell. She went on to explain that it was only oral history and family legend that explained the older structures that were abandoned and falling into oblivion.

After Shirl's family inherited one of the original structures, a group effort to restore this precious piece of history was set in motion. For the past three years a devoted group of volunteers has been working to restore life to this small structure which Shirl has named "Stonetown Haven".
The efforts have reached about a 70% completion rate and they hope to finish soon by placing a museum and information center inside. Once the efforts have been completed I hope to post another notice for those of you within the state or nearby that wish to support the new center. A celebration and grand opening will be planned soon.

Ms. Marks explained that the purpose behind this project is to "preserve the history of all its citizens". For anyone who thinks that history is in the past, I wish you could have watched the people in this room. Even though the structures were almost faded completely from the countryside, many of the descendants of Stonetown, Watkinsville and Pea Ridge are still living in these areas. Their ancestors had built these communities and their children were making sure those communities did not fade from memory. It was extremely heart warming to watch the descendants reminisce about the earlier generations and remember their neighbors from long ago. It was another reminder that history and preservation is not simply about the past, but ensuring our future is complete with the knowledge of how we arrived at our current destination, and how that past journey affects where we are headed.

I will post more about the organization and its efforts as soon as we get closer to their completion date. After the meeting about the preservation of Stonetown Haven, the second meeting of the newly formed African American Genealogy Group of Kentucky took place. Once they are a little more established I will post more about how to support them and how to join. If you are interested in getting involved with this group (and also as a way to get in touch with Shirl Marks), their e-mail is:  
CD 2/20/11

Thursday, February 17, 2011

RootsTech 2011 - My Take

As a regular conference goer in both library and genealogy lands, I have to give an overall thumbs up to the RootsTech conference. Allowing for the fact that this was their first attempt at hosting a technology conference centered on the genealogy market, the thumbs up get even bigger. However, I feel it my duty to offer an unbiased critique of what I witnessed in the hopes of: 1. providing those who were unable to attend another eye view of the event, and 2. adding to the analysis that will make things even better for next year.

Let's start with the positive:
  • Venue: Very nice facility. Clean, spacious in the areas of the main session and exhibit halls, parking was also nicely done. 
  • Exhibit Hall: Lovely and spacious....and extremely fun! They took the technology queue to the extreme with all the flashing bells and whistles - and it worked! Places to play, blog, interview, record, demonstrate, etc. Very inviting - a true tech playground that made you want to stay - I know I took more than one turn around to make sure I took in everything.
  • Speakers: Fantastic selection of speakers! People who knew what they were talking about and were willing to share their vision of the future of genealogy in relation to technology.
  • Outside events: Very nice.....Planetarium, Late Night at the Library, etc. Watching Who Do You Think You Are? on Friday night with the genealogy crowd was an epic hoot!  
  • Goodies: The Bags! The Bags! Ok, this was the most clever bag giveaway I've ever seen. Novell was the sponsor of the syllabus goodie bags, and instead of giving us all the same bag, as is customary, they gave out many different bags throughout the conference! I counted at least six different kinds as I roamed around and I doubt that was all - from giant duffel bags to laptop sleeves, to oversize laptop bags, everyone got a treat - although it did create some serious bag envy as the days progressed and new arrivals got different bags!
  • Demonstrations and hands-on sessions were awesome - need more of those!
Ok, now for the not-so-positive:
  • Venue: Despite some really great features, the steps were very steep in the main classroom areas and the only elevators were usually too slow to accommodate the crowds that really needed to avoid such steep rise and run. Created some really frustrated groups when trying to make it to the next sessions.
  • Sessions: Too many and not appropriately labeled according to difficulty level. This was a very common complaint. Each time slot included from 11-13 presentations. Even if a person visited each one for a few minutes, they still wouldn't have been able to gather anything substantial. I know the levels were supposed to be varied enough to allow for only a few of each type to be going on at the same time, but genealogists who attend this conference are likely to be tech savvy, which means most could fall into more than one category. Besides, a conference like this. where the future is the main theme, means we all want a peek at what is being discussed in the other sessions. And FYI, when the purpose of the conference is to have genealogists and programmers get together when talking design and function, it defeats the purpose if programmers are in one type of session and the genealogists in another. One comment overheard "All levels should not be beginner only". Several people were disappointed that many of the "all levels" sessions were very basic genealogy technology based tasks - most are hoping they clarify the level structure assigned to sessions for next year.
  • Syllabus: VERY disappointed in this area. Only about 2/3 of the presenters supplied syllabus material for their sessions (and I'm not counting the open discussion sessions). When we are paying $100 (plus airfare and hotel/meals) for this many sessions, without the hope of being able to attend even a half of them, it is expected that the syllabus is the gem we take home to serve as supplemental material for our learning. In any future RootsTech conferences, this aspect MUST be changed.
  • Communication: This one is coming from the pre-planning aspect of the conference. As someone trying to arrange a speaker's arrival and session material, the communication structure was extremely frustrating. Multiple people to e-mail, sometimes no answer back, many times only partial information on some of the info sheets, requirement of submitting the same info on more than one type of form and vague instructions. I understand that there was not a huge number of people assigned to planning this conference, but in the future, communication must be polished.
  • Support: Dear Myrtle had a great critique about the problems she encountered, and one especially rang true with us.....the equipment used for the speakers was sadly inadequate. Like Myrt, we wanted to use our own laptop for the presentation, but this proved to be a huge hassle which the team was not prepared for. Even when we did use the supplied laptop, one of their techies admitted that they pulled out the oldest laptops to use with this conference, and I joked to the guy that it was ironic to pull out the oldest equipment for a cutting edge technology conference.....the joke went over his head because he seriously looked at me and said "the newer stuff is being used in the offices". Really? Anyway, there were not enough tech assistants around to help with technical difficulties - one of our presentations was delayed by 15 minutes while trying to find someone that could help resolve our simple connection problem.
With all of that out of the way, none of these problems were catastrophic. In my opinion, they are expected rough spots when dealing with a first time conference. However, we are here to give feedback in the hopes of making things better for next year. It was an amazing conference and we are already looking forward to being involved again next year. Before wrapping this post up, I would offer another pipe dream for future RootsTech conferences: take the technology portion up a notch. If you insist on this being held in Salt Lake City every year, less and less people are going to be able to attend simply due to the cost prohibitive nature of such a venue. Since the genealogy tech field will only grow to its full potential with maximum broad range participation, make sure we utilize the best in live streaming and concurrent virtual participation. Even if you have to offer this at a discounted registration rate, I think this would ensure more widespread participation. The issues discussed at this conference are vital to our growth and development as a research genre.....we all benefit if more of us can participate.

As a fun way to remember this conference, here are some snapshots from the venue, exhibit hall, family history library and closing ceremonies. Enjoy! CD 2/17/11


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