History buff David Gelatt says he “giggled a little bit” when he learned that the Lancaster newspapers, going back more than two centuries, had been digitized and could be searched and read by the public.
Gelatt, of Lancaster, had been hankering to be able to search and read nearly 225 years’ worth of local newspapers through his subscription to a digital archive company owned by genealogy site Ancestry.com.
Throughout the summer, Gelatt has been traveling through the centuries via local digital text, finding out who lived in his house back in the 1800s and learning the backstories of other historical structures and figures in Lancaster County.
Now, access to those local newspaper archives is free to everyone who subscribes, in print or digitally, to LNP or LancasterOnline.
As LNP Media Group Inc., publisher of this newspaper, celebrated its 225th anniversary earlier this summer, its management announced a partnership with Newspapers.com to make its local newspaper archives available to the public.
“Obviously, a newspaper does several different things,” said Caroline Muraro, president of LNP Media Group. “One of the things is it informs our community, on a daily basis, of what’s going on.
“But it also is a historical record of what’s happened, which is important,” Muraro added.
Nearly everything — even the advertisements — that has been published in Lancaster newspapers is now fully searchable on Newspapers.com through LancasterOnline, she said.
(See the sidebar for tips on searching the archive.)
The digitization of the Lancaster papers took place between May and July, so those who already paid for a subscription to Newspapers.com could start to see the historical Lancaster papers showing up in their search results over the summer.
Nearly 225 years
The local archives on Newspapers.com currently go back to the June 17, 1796, edition of the Lancaster Journal.
There is one more volume of early newspapers to be digitized, which will take the archive back to 1795.
(LNP does not own copies of Lancaster’s earliest few newspapers from 1794; those are in historical archives.)
Alexandra Henry, LNP Media Group’s branding and communications manager, said newspapers up to about 30 days ago have been digitized; there will always be about a month’s gap in getting the papers digitized through Newspapers.com.
Muraro said LNP researched a variety of ways to deliver the archive to subscribers.
Many of them were costly — either involving the purchase of equipment or paying a company to scan LNP’s microfilm copies of the newspaper.
Newspapers.com doesn’t charge to digitize newspapers, Muraro said.
“However, there’s an expectation that we will have the relationship with them for a number of years, and that we’re using their platform.”
Newspapers.com hopes LNP’s readers will realize how useful the local archives are and will want to pay to subscribe to the company’s entire archive of 14,165 newspaper titles, Muraro said.
LNP and LancasterOnline subscribers will only have free access to the local archives through LancasterOnline, she explains.
Subscriptions to the entire Newspaper.com archive are available on a monthly, semiannual or annual basis, said Brent Carter, the company’s senior director of content.
The Lehi, Utah-based Newspapers.com was started by Ancestry in 2012, “when they noticed that a lot of their users were asking for historical newspapers in their research,” Carter said.
He noted 99% of Newspaper.com’s content starts on microfilm.
That microfilm is scanned on special high-speed equipment, he said, creating images that are cropped, straightened and enhanced to make them clearer and remove “speckles and smudges.
“Then they are put through what's called optical character recognition,” Carter said, “which is what makes the page so searchable. A machine will read the entire page, look at every character, every word, and turn it into computer-readable text, which makes every word on that page fully searchable by the user.”
Using the archives
“We’re owned by Ancestry, so we’ve found that a lot of people” use Newspapers.com for genealogical research, Carter said.
“They'll be searching for things like obituaries, marriage announcements, birth announcements, and they’re using that for genealogy,” he said.
“But there are also people who use it in kind of a nostalgia way, for old articles they appeared in — maybe football stories or something like that.
“Someone was researching old chess matches,” Carter said. Others have looked up historical advertisements and other local history of a given town: “What used to be on this street? How much did a gallon of milk go for at the local grocery store?
“One of the features we find users really enjoy is the clipping functionality,” Carter said. “They can actually draw a virtual box around a page (or partial page) ... and share it with their friends and family.”
“There’s a lot you can do” with the Lancaster Newspapers.com archives, Kim Gomoll, librarian at LNP, said. “It really is a lot of fun.”
Gomoll has been using the local archives to find information and newspaper pages for LNP reporters’ historical stories that have run in observance of the 225th anniversary.
Gomoll suggests starting out on the site with a broad search — someone’s name in quotation marks, for example — and then narrowing the search results by filtering by date.
She recommends using the tools on the right-hand side of any digital page or article to zoom in and out, or change the brightness of the page if you’re having trouble reading it.
Gelatt, who oversees a Facebook group called “The History of Lancaster, PA,” has been searching the Lancaster newspaper archives for everything from who lived in his house generations ago to the life story of Lancaster’s first mayor, John Passmore.
“One thing that’s really cool to do,” Gelatt said, “is researching your home. I went in and typed in my address in quotes” in the Newspapers.com search.
“I was actually able to find articles about people who lived in the house,” he said. “I was doing other research on them — who were they, where did they come from, where did they live after this?”
Gelatt found out about a gunfight that had happened in the kitchen of his home generations ago after a family spat.
He even found someone who had lived in the house as a boy in the 1950s, who was able to tell Gelatt and his husband, Kevin Peters, how the interior of their city house had been configured decades ago.
“I think that when we go to sell the house,” Gelatt said, “I want to do a little scrapbook for potential buyers to read and go through, just to see what the building has been used for, notable people who have lived here.”
Gelatt said he also likes to read about historical figures such as William Walton Griest, the congressman for whom Lancaster’s Griest Building is named.
“This is the nerd part of me,” Gelatt said. “I’ll pick (today’s date) in 1890, and I’ll find that edition, and I’ll read the entire newspaper that day,” Gelatt said. “What was September 12 like in 1890? It’s really interesting to just see what Lancaster was like 100 years ago.”
Henry said she has been able to find sports stories on Newspapers.com from events involving family members from childhood through college.
“I did some old family history,” said Sean Fidler, director of information technology for Steinman Communications, LNP’s parent company. “Seeing (family) names I haven’t heard of in a while popping back up in the search results was interesting.”
“I really think there’s no limit” to what you can search for in these Lancaster archives, Muraro said. “You might just go here out of curiosity and (read something else) and say, ‘Oh, I didn't remember that happening 25 years ago here.’ You start spinning off into other topics.
“Anything that was part of our content for all of those years is searchable,” Muraro said, “from fires to elections to openings and closings and births.
“Newspapers.com was thrilled to get this archive,” Muraro said. “because there are probably diminishing numbers of newspapers that have 200-some years of content that can come their way.”
“They did mention that there weren’t a whole lot of collections that they have that are this old,” Fidler added.
“As part of (LNP) celebrating its 225th, this is a gift back to the community,” Muraro said.