Monday, October 10, 2011

Collection Highlight : Local Newspapers Are Rare & Precious History (Focus on Lawrence Times)

Did you know that a significant amount of local history has been lost because small hometown newspapers have not survived?  Perhaps you thought that all newspapers were in some way "preserved by law" and that they are all available for research.  Sadly, not so.  Newspapers were usually published by an individual or small local business.  Back issues may not have been archived and even if they were, when the newspaper went out of business, chances are the archives was sold or destroyed. 

What value does the local newspaper have in our research?  First, realize that newspapers 100+ years ago were very different from today's publications.  Everything then was much more personal, and much more blunt with a "tell all" mentality.  If Aunt Jennie came to visit from Flint, it was in the paper.  If your neighbor's baby had the measles, chances are it made the local jottings.  When farmer Smith had a bumper crop of wheat, there was a prideful note.  And, when Mrs. Jones was found to be an adulteress, the details of who, what, when, where & maybe even why were public knowledge.  So, ask yourself again - what value does the local newspaper have in learning more about our families?

A good example of a small circulation paper that is in part in peril of being lost to time is The Lawrence Times, published in the village of Lawrence, Michigan, under various additional titles:  The Lawrence Advertiser, The Lawrence Lyer, Van Buren County Visitor, The Promoter, and The Lawrence Herald.  It was under the name of The Lawrence Advertiser that the paper's earliest history can be traced back as early as 1875, and the last issues were published in 1961 under the name of The Promoter.  Approximately 86 years of continuous publication...

Up to 2002, only 14 issues (not years but issues) had been preserved by microfilming.  At that time, the Van Buren District Library initiated the Newspaper Preservation Project, and in partnership with the Courier-Leader, the Van Buren County Historical Society, and the Archives & Regional History Department at Western Michigan University, sought to put together as many surviving issues of the Lawrence newspaper as possible for a filming.  This was done by combining the holdings of the four facilities, and seeking out other issues through a series of press releases.

The success of the project is that several decades of the newspapers as well as some miscellaneous issues were identified, organized and filmed.  However, even through this public effort, about 30 percent of the newspapers are still "missing."

This is truly a loss.  You may be asking "what can be done?"  More issues of this newspaper are still out there somewhere, in attics, trunks, walls of homes, and basements.  The next time you go through your family papers and you encounter a clipping or an entire issue of a Lawrence newspaper, consider that you may have the only surviving piece of that history.  To be helpful, it doesn't have to be an entire issue or even a whole page.  The following items, even if undated, could be very useful:
  1. Obituaries, wedding announcements or other social items clippings
  2. Scrapbook that may have items from the newspaper pasted in them
  3. Items of a National or Michigan nature clipped from the paper that may have local items on the back
  4. Any article reflecting a prominent citizen, criminal activity or historical event
 If you, or someone you know, is interested in local history and may have some of these items (God bless the packrats!), let them know about the library's Newspaper Preservation Project.  Or, contact us and we will follow up on any leads.  For an inventory list of surviving Lawrence Times newspapers, view the library's Microfilm Collection Index, keeping in mind that even some of those issues listed may have been in poor condition or incomplete at the time of filming.    To be sure, let us know about any Lawrence newspapers you may locate so that we can be sure that it has been preserved in its entirety. 

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown boy or girl (hair part suggests boy)
Photographer - M. V. Chapman, Benton Harbor

Can you identify the child in this photo?  Are you familiar with the photographer's name?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.