Posted by Deliverator on October 11th, 2008
I’ve been spending a lot of time in the last couple months researching the history of the first immigrant generation of the Marsh family in America. While I have generally been quite pleased with the amount and breadth of information available online, some data sources have been very difficult to access without involving a trip to rural Minnesota. I’ve been digitizing some of these public domain materials in order to make my own consultation of the materials easier, to make research by others easier, and to give something back to several of the historical societies which have helped me in my research. One particular offline resource to which I’ve desired easier access are the local newspapers of Hastings and Glencoe Minnesota.
The Pleasant Hill Library in Hastings has the archives of several early Hastings area newspapers on Microfilm, but as seems typical, they won’t allow for checkout, other than interlibrary loan (in which case you can only access the materials at the branch to which the material is loaned). The Mcleod County Historical Society has scattered Microfilm archives of that area’s local papers, including Glencoe, but has even more restrictive policies. They are viewable on site only. Thankfully, the Minnesota Historical Society has substantial archives of their own. Their newspaper archives are available via interlibrary loan as well, which doesn’t help in my case, but they also offer a Microfilm reel duplication service for $30 a roll + S&H.
I ended up placing an initial order for 7 rolls, consisting of issues of the Hastings Conserver, Hastings Independent and Hastings Gazette, from 1857 onwards. The Converver and Independent merged after a few years to form the Gazette, which is still published to this day as the Hastings Star Gazette. From what I can tell, this makes the Gazette the second oldest newspaper in the state, behind the St Paul Pioneer Press.
I am having the reels scanned on a high end Mekel film scanner by a company in Issaquah called Modus Technology. Their rates aren’t as good as some other companies, but they are local and on a project like this I would much rather work with a local company. If you don’t mind sending your material away, Microfacs, a company referred to me by Andrew Filer, has much lower rates. Andrew is an acquaintance through Seattle Wireless who did a similar project some years back with his home town’s paper, the Holt Weekly News.
I’ve received the first batch of images back from Modus and have been reading through the paper on my 24″ Samsung monitor and my projector. While this has been an expensive project for me, reading on a screen in an easy chair makes for a much more enjoyable experience than trying to read hunched over a dilapidated Microfilm reader at a library. I hope to eventually make the archives of the first ~20 years of both Hasting’s and Glencoe’s papers available online in a similar form to Andrew’s project. OCR quality may be lower than I hoped, as during the original photographing of the paper for conversion to microfilm a lot of text bleed through from the reverse side of each page occurred. This may have been unavoidable due to the thin cotton rag paper on which the newspaper was printed, but it makes for difficult reading. This sort of doubled image is bound to confuse OCR software. I may be able to mess with the image levels to increase the contrast of the images somewhat before processing to minimize the bleed through effect, but my hopes are not high. People wishing to search the archives for mention of a name or an event are likely going to have to do it the old fashion way.
While it would be nice to be able to accurately keyword search through the results for subjects of interest, I’ve found that being forced to browse page by page has been very beneficial to me. It has really helped to paint a picture of this pioneering community and its concerns and get a greater appreciation for the challenges of the times. I’ve found it especially interesting to track the run up to the civil war. Reading a primary source like this gives you a far richer view of the times than any history book.