Apr 12, 2007 10:18 AM
The Value of the Google News Archive Search for the Genealogist
By Marina Garrison
In my role as Research Manager for a company that specializes in Search Engine Marketing, I often look at various Search Engine related tools and how they are used by my client's customers.
The Google News Archive Search was originally designed as a way to search through archived news articles. Google has been serving up news articles for a while in their regular results but they are limited to news from the last 30 days. The news archive search allows you to search a variety of different history records including newspaper and legal case abstracts and is different from a regular search on Google which is not restricted to news.
The idea of using news records of this nature for genealogical purposes is not new. Genealogists have been doing it for years but the difficulty has always been the lack of indexes for these records. Ancestry.com has tried to address this by indexing newspaper and other historic records for their subscribers. For a subscription fee you may access to these records through Ancestry.com. Google on the other hand is simply indexing what is available out on the web for free to help you find it more easily.
To test Google News Archive Search as a genealogical tool, I decided to search on the name of the boat my mother-in-law’s ancestors arrived on. I already know a little about this steamship, The State of Nevada, including having a copy of the ship passenger list and newspaper cutting of its arrival into New York in May 1884 (both from Ancestry.com) for these ancestors' voyage. But what else could I find out that could be relevant or useful for genealogical purposes?
To find out, I performed a search for "Allan Line State of Nevada" using a date filter of “Before 1900”. I chose this more detailed term because “State of Nevada” on its own produced hundreds of records on the physical state of Nevada in the USA rather than the steamship. This more refined search revealed the following information:
The first thing that struck me about this record (and many subsequent records) was that they were commonly being poorly transcribed. In fact the mistakes I noticed indicated that the records were being automatically transcribed using optical character recognition (OCR) technology which tries to decipher words based on their shape. Reading these articles was difficult but not impossible and the originals were available but for a fee.
This news article (and in fact the news article above it which I have not reproduced) talks about the cholera outbreak in 1892 which was sweeping across India, the Middle East, Russia and Eastern Europe, as well as major ports of Western Europe. Dr William Jenkins, New York's Health Officer, implemented measures to protect the city from this disease by having each the passengers from each ship remain on board in quarantine for 20 days.
While I had previously found a list of voyages online there is no mention of any cholera outbreak on its arrival and the quarantine imposed on the passengers of this 1892 voyage. This is interesting information if you happened to have ancestors arriving on this ship and even more so, if your ancestors died either aboard or shortly after its arrival.
My second search, this time for “allan line state of nevada steamship” and filtered on 1880s date range (closer to my MIL's ancestors voyage) and the New York Times publication only (as this was the port of their arrival), gave me the following results:
The first listing is an arrival announcement for the ship which was commonly printed in the newspaper a day or so after the ships arrival. I found a number of these but could not find one for the day I was looking for, on or after 30 May 1884 (even though I knew it existed as I had a copy).
The New York Times (Newspaper) - December 5, 1882, New York, New York
Subscription - New York Times - NewspaperArchive - Dec 5, 1882
Allan Line stearrnhlp Peru- Tlan, Capt. Rltuhle. from Montreal Nov. ... OLXBQOW, DPO i State Line steam sblo State of Nevada. Capt. ...
STATE LINE steam sblo STATE OF NEVADA. Capt. Stewart, from New-Yori Nov. 28. arr. hern at 7 o olock thii morning,
While looking through the results I did find a couple of interesting records:
The New York Times (Newspaper) - March 1, 1880, New York, New York
Subscription - New York Times - NewspaperArchive - Mar 1, 1880
LONG BRANCH, Fob. steam- ship State of Nevada, of the Stato Line, from Glasgow for Now-York, got aground last night about half a mile north-east of tho ...
The text was as follows:
Wow, a full description of the ship including launch date, physical description both inside and out, and first voyage! Interestingly enough, the article explains that the running aground was not the only mishap to befall the steamship and goes on to explain an incident where the steamship hit an iceberg during a period of dense fog.
In another article referenced on the results page, I found another incident involving the State of Nevada:
Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (Newspaper) - February 10, 1880 ...
Subscription - Oshkosh Daily Northwestern - NewspaperArchive - Feb 10, 1880
Hain and Otter Streets, OSHKOSH, wis I keep a full line of foreign and ... 10 Steamship State of Nevada from Olasgow for New York was put back with her ...
While the Google News Archive Search has its flaws, the most obvious being the quality of the transcribed record, the benefits of this tool to the genealogist are clear. It enables the researcher to search records spanning over a hundred years for a large number of different newspapers and legal journals.
The time saving to the researcher is huge and the news records cover a large number of relevant topics, ships, crimes, public announcements and other newsworthy events. While most of the results said subscription required, it seems that in most cases you only pay to access the original record with the transcription being available for free.
You can find the Google News Archive Search at: http://news.google.com/archivesearch
This article may be reproduced in full or in part as long as credit is given to the author.