Monday, August 1, 2016
Chasing Vanishing Collections
With so many documents of interest to genealogists getting digitized and added to online collections, there has never been a better time to research one's family history.
That, in itself, can inspire a false sense of security: now that those aging documents are safely digitized and accessible on the web, they will always be there for us to access, right?
Not necessarily. Take the instance of the very news clipping I wanted to share on today's post. Since my decision to revisit my research on my father's side of the family—a branch I hadn't worked on much in the past year—I had wanted to include some photos and news clippings of the family, starting with my own dad.
There is a reason for this. That photo you may have seen on Saturday's post, one shared with me by an older cousin, is a version of my dad I'd never seen. A much skinnier version. Definitely one with more hair than I'd ever seen. Since my dad was nearly fifty by the time I was born, he lived an entire lifetime before I ever came on the scene. He was, obviously, a very different person during those early years than the man I remember as my dad.
By the time I was able to flex my research muscles and try and discover exactly who this earlier version of my dad might have been, there were all sorts of online resources at my fingertips. I had the tools and I knew how to use them, so I came up with lots of great bits of personal history. Of course, it helped that the man was a professional musician in a city the size of New York during the heyday of the big band era.
Most of those research results I captured and stored on my old computer—you know, that wood burning computer I'm always sniveling about.
When it came to pulling those gems back out of their virtual storage vault to share with you, rather than booting up the old geezer, I decided the easier route might be to just go back and access them again on the online sites where I thought I had found them in the first place.
Wrong. Try as I might, I couldn't locate the specific newspaper item I wanted to find. I tried the two subscription services I use, plus two free resources on my go-to list—the New York Public Library's gateway to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the U.S. Library of Congress' Chronicling America site. The clipping I wanted to find seemed as good as gone.
Of course, you know the sorry excuse I have is that I never originally identified the news source from which I had first extracted the clipping. And it had been so long since I had accessed one other site that I had simply forgotten about its existence. (If you hadn't known about this newspaper archiving site with the improbable title, "Old Fulton New York Postcards," you might not have thought about using it, either.)
Thankfully, there it was, still in existence and still full of all the good stuff embedded in this crazy interface—you have to go view the site to see what I mean—but now also sporting the dignifying boast that it is now a resource link included in the NYPL's website.
The item I was seeking was part of a series of ads run in the Long Island Star Journal in the fall of 1942, promoting a dinner theater which featured variety shows on ice. What was surprising to me, at the time I found them, was that my father—whom I already knew was a musician—actually had his own band. His name was featured prominently in the ads, running during the months of October through December of that year, and into the new year of 1943.
However, despite that happy ending of relocating that source, it did remind me of the changing nature of online collections—and even the possibility that one of those websites we so take for granted now may not always be in existence online at some future point. Some websites feature collections which may have a temporary contractual arrangement with the hosting site—a contract which can expire, or not enjoy the same generous terms as were included in previous versions. If your special snippet of micro-history was included in one of those scenarios, what would become of your access to that document then?
Above: Ad for the Ice Revue at The Boulevard in Elmhurst, Long Island, in the borough of Queens in New York City; from the Long Island Star-Journal on October 3, 1942; courtesy Old Fulton New York Postcards.