Jamestown Journal Subject Index, 1906-1910

The happiest day in the lives of quite a few local genealogists I know was the day they discovered the Old Fulton Newspapers site had uploaded most of the run of the Jamestown Journal and Post Journal. The Old Fulton site has tens of millions of mostly New York State newspaper pages and a vast, less used array of other photo and primary material hidden away in its notoriously difficult to use digital library. I have taught classes on the use of Old Fulton, but I still find it hard to use. I’m aware that there are many resources there and many tricks to finding them I still don’t know. On Old Fulton you can make use of Boolean search procedure which can be almost demonically bizzare.

The left hand hits panel of Old Fulton and a setting in another newspaper site, New York Historic Newspapers, can show you how the microfilms they are reading actually look to the computer’s “mind.” This will give you a shock and the realization that there is more difference between you and your digital helpers than you realized. So these two things – the convoluted way you sometimes have to explain search goals to a computer with Boolean instructions, and the ubiquitous and debilitating errors in computers’ reading skills – are the reason I tell researchers, always use human indexes and extractions when they are available, no matter what the computer access and searchability potential is.

There is a publication, little known and little used, The Jamestown Journal Index: January 1900 – December 1905. It is an 111 page subject index, not a name or genealogical index, arranged alphabetically then by date within 19 human designated categories such as crime, industry, reminiscences, religion, and sports. It was done by a human being named Sylvia Finch in the 1970s. She read microfilms and made notes on index cards that were later worked up into a book published by the Prendergast Library in 1978. The money came from a now forgotten federal program with the typically pompous name of Comprehensive Employment and Training Act.

Under New York State law, one of your seldom used rights is the right to represent yourself in a court of law. To enable this, the State is more or less obligated to make a knowledge of state laws and court decisions available to the public. In this spirit, the Jamestown Bar Association used to maintain a law library on the second floor of the Prendergast Library. I used that library in my historical research to look up the dates of passage and actual wording of various laws. One day, in a dark corner of the stairwell, I discovered a set of cards for an index of the next five years of the Journal, 1906 – 1910. I was able to recognize what they were because I was one of the few people familiar with the original publication. I have a file on my computer I call my Crying File. It lists major local historical records that have disappeared, mostly in my lifetime. I was fearful these cards would be added to it, especially when, after going through a number of directors, the library hired one who became notorious for throwing things away. The cards disappeared and I went in to see the new director. She reassured me the cards still existed and after a short conversation, she gave them to Fenton. I made haste to pick them up and bring them in.

More decades went by. I encouraged volunteers and potential volunteers to take on the task of digitally typing the second set of cards into a computer file. Finally, a year or more ago, Shelley Stahlman agreed to the job. She finished the project on April 3. The information in the card file now exists as a searchable computer file formatted to be printable in the same style as the 1978 book but about twice as long. There was a separate set of cards for an extraction of the single year 1880. Shelley also typed them.

The files are now available for research at the Hall House and some form of hard copy publication is being considered.

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