by Barbara Stewart
The project starts - March 2002
I have always had an inordinate fondness for reading old news - so much so that I spent a year or so scouring the Web, reading articles from many U.S. cities and small towns from the 19th century. With very few exceptions, these "gleanings" were just that - a few pages of disparate articles, perhaps concerning ancestors of the site creator. I hungered for more.
At the same time, I was honing in on my "favorite" era, and decided that the Victorian era, post Civil War [who needs to read all those bloody battle accounts in greater detail? If I want battle gore, I can just go to the History Channel ;-)], pre-electricity [I just love that horse lore] era was perfect for me. I am privileged beyond measure to live in Lake Pleasant, Massachusetts - the site of a Spiritualist resort which became active in 1870. Perfect timing, I thought.
I began to explore local history. I requested [before the current UMass budget crisis] that the Library purchase back runs of the Greenfield Recorder - the largest Franklin County Paper, originating in 1792 as the Impartial Intelligencer. When my sabbatical began in March 2002, I retreated to my home, replete with a borrowed old microfilm reader, and a roll of the Greenfield Gazette and Courier for the period 1870-1872.
I had prepared a list of approximately 227 subject headings [which eventually grew to 242] and was determined to do as complete a full text index as I could in the time allotted me - 5 1/2 months. The vast majority of the subject headings are Library of Congress Subject Headings, except in a few cases of town names which did not have an established heading. For these headings, I created what I thought would be the most correct heading.
Indexing, although mostly full-text, was also based on the New York Times Index. Decisions, decisions - I soon found out that, although the Gazette and Courier was only a weekly, and though the issues only contained 6-8 pages apiece, these issues were crammed full of information and articles. In addition a visit to the Library at Historic Deerfield, where they have paper copies of the same issue, demonstrated that the paper itself was about 3 1/2 ft. high and about 3 ft. wide - enormous, in other words! Remember, this was the only vehicle for communicating, other than word of mouth, the telegraph and the mail.
Franklin County is basically a rural area, but it encompasses a large square acreage - and many of the border towns in Vermont were also covered in depth. How to choose which areas to cover completely? I decided to think globally and act locally. All items concerning Montague and its five villages - Turners Falls, Millers Falls, Montague City, Montague Center, and Lake Pleasant - would be exhaustively covered. Greenfield and Deerfield would also be exhaustively covered. Neighboring areas would be secondarily covered - this includes Gill, Erving and Shelburne Falls. Other towns would only be covered when there were items of particular interest to me, or to genealogists in general - family reunions, etc.
I decided that ads were of great interest to me, and that long articles discussing politics or taxes were not. Bi-annual or annual elections of Presidents, Clerks and Grand Poobahs were also not of the slightest interest to me, and avoiding them would also probably delay the inevitable repetitive stress disorder. Specific dates and times were also deleted when possible - of what possible value could it be to know that the Farmers’ Club met on Friday night at 7 p.m., instead of Saturday at noon?
I wanted to include as many web links as possible, to aid researchers as well as genealogists. On a few occasions, when I discovered a particularly juicy item about an ancestor, I communicated with the descendant and sent them a copy of the article. In all instances, they were extremely pleased to receive the information.
I also was not interested in going blind. The microfilm reader I am employing does not have a magnifier, so I invested in a cheap pair of reading glasses. Anything too light or grainy to be read with those reading glasses without strain was not included. Much of the probate and will stuff belongs in this category, although any inkling of a crime or misdemeanor was included. Finally I decided not to index announcements of events that did not occur yet, except in special instances - a circus or particular show or speaker coming to town. I knew that the event would be reviewed in depth after the fact.
I decided to limit personal comments to items between square brackets . Items in parentheses are usually explanatory content, for example (humorous article). Skipped sections are marked by ellipses.
The project gets databased - May 2002
At the point where I was crazily copying and pasting each article to multiple headings on the one massive webpage, I came into contact with Michael Muller, a Web Application Developer and Internet guru, then employed during the day at UMass’ President’s Office in Hadley, and in the evening, the author of the software running MontagueMA.net, the community website for the town of Montague.
In May of 2002, Michael modified a copy of his website software (then using version 1.0, now updated to version 3.2) by adding an article archive table to the database, changed the look-and-feel to the interface and created the Franklin County Publication Archive Index at fcpai.umassp.edu (When Michael left the University to consult fulltime he moved the website to his own servers at www.PublicationArchive.com -- its current home.)
Michael showed me how to enter each article only once into a single text file, offline, assigning each article a list of numbers representing my subject headings (which had mushroomed to 244 at this point--imagine copying and pasting articles up and down a page with 244 topic headings!). After making an additional modification to his software, he showed me how to batch upload the articles through a web-form into the database! All at once my project became so much easier, and the potential for growth was unlimited.
Michael also has a passion for historical newspaper articles, specifically covering Montague, and when we found each other, he was extremely pleased to find a kindred soul who was willing to manually type in these old articles onto a web page. What about scanning, you say? Impossible with current scanning technologies, especially with the dim faded look of some of the pages and the extremely tiny, often smudged or broken-up text.
Our concept then blossomed into creating a web presence for all old Franklin County periodicals, and recruiting volunteers to index them. Anything before 1927, the year of copyright restrictions, is free and clear to copy. So we are now actively recruiting volunteer collaborators, and Michael is training me how to peform the duties of being a site administrator. If you would like to help, please contact me (the e-mail link is at bottom of this page).
The website gets updated - October 2007
In December of 2006 Michael needed to shut down his old server, and in the process decided to finally upgrade the website from his old version 1.0 software to his newer version 3.2, which included the ability for users to comment on articles and upload images. This took longer than expected and the website was down for several months, until October 2007. Over a weekend, Michael imported all 28,000 articles and 248 subjects. Development continues on the software to maximize research tools and viewer enjoyment.
We’d like to thank...
David Bosse, Library Director,
Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association Library
Deane Whitney Merrill, current President of the Shelburne Falls Historical Society, consummate historian, and direct descendent of the Merrill Family, who were some of the earliest settlers of Shelburne Falls, and ran the Shelburne Falls Hotel for over 100 years. He and his wife Chris now operate the Bear Haven Bed & Breakfast in the Merrill’s ancestral home on Mechanic Street in Shelburne Falls)
Greenfield Public Library (and especially Dianne Ryan and Beverly Whitbeck)
Dickinson Memorial Library, Northfield Library (Deb Kern, Norma Stearns, Martha Jones, Sharon Miller)
Information Technology Services
University of Massachusetts President’s Office
Lissa Greenough, Librarian, Slate Public Library, Gill, Massachusetts
Louise Shattuck, Lake Pleasant historian, artist, and animal lover (rest in peace).
David James, who has taken on the mantle of Louise to become the resident Lake Pleasant historian.
Marla Miller, History and Anthropology Depts.
University of Massachusetts Amherst (Marla also spoke with Anne Lanning, Curator of Interpretation at Historic Ceerfield, Jessica Neuwirth, who oversees the summer Fellowship Program, Bob Paynter, Marge Bruchac, Mimi Miller, and Alan Swedlund about useful subject headings)
Michael "Mik" Muller, Montague Center - I owe it all to him!
Montague Public Libraries (and especially Sue SanSoucie, Director of the Carnegie Library, Turners Falls, and Beverly Whitbeck, and of course the Montague Library Board, on which I currently serve)
Sue Downhill, Mass GenWeb Franklin County Coordinator, and Franklin County Message Board Admin.
Tim Blagg, Editor, The Recorder (the current version of the Greenfield Gazette & Courier, and also current President of the Greenfield Historical Society)
Old Greenfield village (and its director and Creator, Waine Morse)
W.E.B. Du Bois Library
University of Massachusetts Amherst (and here I would like to thank most especially Margo Crist, Pat Banach, Gary Hough, Mel Carlson, Jim Kelly, J. Michael Davis, the entire staff of Special Collections and Archives (especially Melissa Watterworth), as well as the Cataloging & Processing Dept., Jim Borkowski and Lori Mestre of the Multimedia room, and Elizabeth Campbell, Microforms).
And finally, Montague WebWorks, who host this site for free. Thanks guys!!