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 Trenton Times (Newspaper) - September 15, 1892, Trenton, New ...
Subscription - Trenton Times - NewspaperArchive - Sep 15, 1892
The anivul of the State of Nevada, of the Allan line, from Glasgow Sept. 2 and Mo- ville Sept. 3, is of special interest, as she is the first ship to bring ...

a new on the the afiival OF the STATE OF NEVADA from Olbsgow, the firet ship amenable to the twenty day rule OF t.he treasury circular, and Dr. Jenkins' STATEment that in spite OF cholera cases in the city will be no diminution iu the stringency OF quarantine Dr. Jenkins, in shaking OF the iw would not have admitted the deaths were from cholera until a bacteriological examin- ation had confirmed the diagnosis that the disease was OF the Asiatic type. When it was suggested that perhaps the geiuis might have gained on trance to the city in baggage or effects OF passengers entering before the present rigid quarantine had been estab- lished, the health OFficer said he was confi- dent it had not. The reason for his STATEment is that evor he has been health OFficer all baggage and effects OF Russian immigrants and OF like suspected jwrsons has been disinfected, Pud this has been particularly thorough pince the typhus cases in the spring. He was not incLINEd to lay much stress on Dr. Walser's belief that in a cholera period even ordinary diarrhea among members OF a ship's crew was productive OF a danger- ous infection. In answer to a specific in- quiry he expre.vscd the opinion that it might perhaps be possible for a person es- raping cholera to btill convey the infection from a victim to a third party, provided the incubating germs got into the alimenta- ry canal OF the latter, but he deemed such a transmission as extremely unlikely. Questioned as to the effect the existence OF tho disease in the city would have on the severity OF quarantine regulations, the health OFficer said there would be absolutely no change in the present restrictions. He decLINEd to say whether or not he thought the Canadian border was the source OF the disease in the city, spying, "It is not for me to throw blame on anybody engaged iu the Work OF barring out the disease." The Quarantined Passengers. The anivul OF the STATE OF NEVADA, OF the ALLAN LINE, from Glasgow Sept. 2 and Mo- ville Sept. 3, is OF special interest, as she is the first ship to bring immigrants which left port after the publication OF the treas- ury circular. She brings 221 cabin and 55 steerage passengers. Though the latter are not from an in- fected country, Dr Jenkins says he will have to hold them for the full twenty days unless sooner authorized to release them by orders from Washington. The first and second cabin people will bo treated accord- ing to the health OFficer's discretion, as in previous cases, and will therefore not be detained longer than five days. As to the deposition OF on the Ships which have been detained, Dr. Jen- kins said the Normannia's cabin people, having been OFf the vessel for five days, would be free to go tomoirow. This brought up the very important ques-ti m OF tune OF detention necessary. To this the doctor said: "The actual time OF possible development after incubation varies from twenty-four hours to sixteen days, according to differ- ent authorities. We prefer to make the ex- treme limit five days among well people and ten days among those who have been exposed to infection. "In the case OF passengers remaining on the infected ships, ten days after the last cmo developing on board will be deemed a safe detention." Goveruor Flower left his headquarters this morning to retuiu on Friday night. Where the governor is going he decLINEd to say, but before going he had a conference with Dr. Jenkins. After the conference Ooveiiior Flower on being interviewed said: "The reports from quarantine are very en- comaging. I will make arrangements so that the Nonnannia's passengers on Fire island will be released either tomorrow or the next day. It is now simply a question OF transportation, which will be arranged for by Dr. Jenkins No definite anango- ments have yet been made for the removal OF the Eugia's steerage passengers. Sandy Hook quarters are not yet ready, but they will be Friday." Troops on Fire Island. Dr. Jenkins retuiued to quaiautiue short- ly after the conferences -He did not care to tallr, but said that he thought that every- thing was now under control and that he would be fully able to cope with any out- break OF the cholera that might occur, though he was not OF the opinion that it would present itself in anymore nggiavated a degico than it had already done.

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:

TEE STATE OF NEVADA STRANDED. SUE RUNS AGROUND HEAR BANDY HOOK POINT BUT IS FLOATED WITHOUT DAMAGE. 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 point OF Sandy Hook, and a quarur OF a mile south OF tho ship channel. She atruck on the bar about P. M., during a for, at nearly high water. Four W. Seymour, Hudson, J. S. Smith, and at work this morning trying to pull her OFf, but wore unsuc- cessful. Tbo Captain sent to Now-York for assistance, and another attempt to eat her OFf was mado to-night at high, tide, which resulted successfully, and at P. M. sho started for Now-York. Tbo bar on which she struck must have been made during the last storm, as previ- ous to that steamers OF her capacity were able to run in much nearer to tbe point OF the Hook with safety. She had a pilot on board, and no danger was anticipated at tho time sho struck. The STATE OF NEVADA was launched in June, at Glasgow, having been built 'on tho Clyde, for the STATE Lino, by the London and Glasgow Engineering and Shlp-bnildlnz Com- pany. She is a screw steamer, schoonor-riggod, with tbreo masts. Her length is 332 feet 1 inch; breadth, 30 feet 3 inches, and depth, 28 feet 0 inches. Sho has three decks, is OF tons burden, and has a draught OF 21 feet Hor engines aro OF extra strength, with a nominal OF 400 horses, indicating 1.400- horse power. Thoro aro two cylinders, one OF 82 inches in diameter, tie OF 46 inches, tho atroko being 3 feet 0 inches. Hor cabins are at ted in the most substantial manner. The main saloon Is amidships, runninar aoross tho vessel, well lighted and ventilated. Tho STATE-rooms are ot extra size and provided with all modern Improvements." Tho first voyago OF tho NEVADA was mado in July, 1874, from Glasgow to this port, which she reached on tho last day OF the month. On'Jane 10.1875. on a voyago from Antwerp -to this port, sho was overtaken by a dense fog, and, 'soon after noon, came In collision with a huge Ico- berjr. Her forecastle was stovo in. the plates under tho spar-deck and a portion OF 'the stern, toosall and topgALLANt stays carried away. No more serious damage was. done to the vesaol, and she proceeded safely on hor voyage. Another ncaJdont occurred to tba NEVADA, Jan.

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 ...

STEAM NAVIGATION. Loneon, Feb. 10 STEAMSHIP STATE OF NEVADA from Olasgow for New York was put back with her propellor brok- Chim- boraio, from Australia, returned in con- Hpquence OF damage during a gale OFl" Ubhant. Two persons were wtuihed overboard, two killed, and seventeen injured. The steamer lost six boats and received other damage.

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.

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