Friday, June 24, 2011

Collection Highlight : Hartford Day Spring Digital Newspaper Archive

The Hartford Day Spring, first published in 1871 and in almost continuous publication until 1973, has been a rich source of Hartford local history.  Decades ago, Western Michigan University's Archives & Regional History Collection sponsored a project whereby the existing issues ranging over 102 years were reproduced on 55 reels of microfilm.

Now, through a project sponsored by the Hartford District Library and area donors, all 55 reels of the Hartford Day Spring newspapers have been digitized and made text searchable.  The result is eight CD-Rom disks containing pdf (portable document format) files of each issue of the paper.

The Van Buren District Library and the Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society donated toward the cost of the project and now have a complete set of the digitized Hartford newspapers.  These files are available for viewing on computer in the library's Local History department. 

Individual issues may be browsed by date, or searches may be made to individual or ranges of issues.  Images of pages are pretty clear and articles can be downloaded or printed.

The Hartford District Library has also added access to the Day Spring to their website.  A search engine there allows searches of specific text over specified or all years.  Although it is exciting that these historical newspapers are online, there are a few things to keep in mind.  The pdf files tend to be on the large size and don't load quickly, especially if you are struggling with dial-up or slower speed connections.   Secondly, there seems to be a fair amount of instability - when taking the site for a "test drive", I froze up my web browser several times and had to "Ctrl-Alt-Delete" to close it down and start again.  Instructions for the site warn against clicking more than once after loading a page for that reason, but it seems that it sometimes freezes up even with only one click.  Perhaps a few bugs to be worked out of the online version...

I did like the search interface of the online papers, and it is easy to use.  One thing that is very nice is that when you enter a complete name like "John Smith", the search results reflect that exact phrase - not all of those where Smith might appear on the bottom of the page and John at the top.  One can also perform simple Boolean searches using criteria such as "and", "or", and "not".  The search results can be very literal, however.  When I entered my ancestor's name, Joshua Drake, there were no hits.  But, when I entered Joshua C. Drake, there were quite a few hits.

Hartford is the second Van Buren County newspaper to make an online appearance, the first being portions of the Gobles News [see our January 31, 2011 blog].  The only newspapers still publishing in the county are Decatur, Paw Paw and South Haven, but at one time there were papers published in:  Bangor, Bloomingdale, Covert, Lawrence, Gobles, Breedsville, and Lawton.  The Van Buren District Library has a collection of microfilm for all of the surviving issues, plus a growing collection of "missing issues" that have been gathered over the years.  For more information about the Hartford Day Spring digital newspaper archives or other Van Buren county newspapers contact the Local History department.