Thursday, March 31, 2016

Searching Digital Newspaper Archives: Don't stop with the names

My great grandfather's name is Barney Newmark, with a 'W.' How do you think I found the below article in my search of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch archives at

 Not by being creative with surname spellings. As you can see below, a search on the page yields no results for 'Neumark' (or, for that matter, 'Noumark'). Why not? I'm not sure. The search engine does just fine ignoring commas in places such as obituaries. I suspect it's just that Optical Character Recognition can be finicky, and will at times miss stuff.
Because of this, it's important to search for more than just an ancestor's name. If you know it, search for their address as well. The article above doesn't reveal much about my ancestor, but the classified below, from the August 10, 1952 edition, tells me when my great-great uncle, David Cruvant, put his pawnshop up for sale before moving to Louisiana, an approximate date for when the shop opened (I don't trust that it was exactly 1920), and it tells me his move was for health reasons.
Classified ads from 1954 also tell me that the business that bought the location and moved in was Veterans Linoleum and Tile, which became Becky's when the next generation of the family-owned business took over. Becky's Carpet and Tile closed in 2012, but had become an extremely well-known local business, so knowing that their first store was in the same store front as my great-great uncle's pawnshop means something to me. (And I'm looking for a photograph of Veterans Linoleum's Collinsville Avenue location to compare it to this 1920s-1930s photo.)
Also search for business names. The classified ad below, from May 4, 1902, doesn't say much, but it is the only appearance I've found other than in the City Directories of my second great grandfather, Selig Feinstein's, junk store, which he operated 1901-1902.
Maybe you know a relative was an officer of a local organization, and there is a newspaper article that mentions them by title and  not by name?

Finally, a search for names of neighborhoods can also yield important information. My research on the neighborhoods of Little Jerusalem and Carr Square has uncovered descriptions of the conditions my paternal ancestors lived in during the late 19th early 20th century. I even discovered a photograph which could be of family, though it isn't definite.

In short, search for everything you can think of connected with your ancestor. You don't know when your ancestor may be referred to, or even photographed, but not named. And you can't control mistakes made by faulty Optical Character Recognition.

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