Using the Historical Newspaper Index



 

A Word About the Index

This index is quite different from those listed at the end of a reference volume. The reports and responses that you will receive are not intended to provide a full explanation of the event, etc. published in the paper, but can provide enough information to enable you to decide which items to pursue further by visiting the Virginia Room at the City of Fairfax Regional Library and viewing the actual newspaper item.


 

Building the Database

The index reflects only the newspapers available on microfilm at the Virginia Room and for the Reston Times at the Reston Regional Library. Not all issues of some newspapers were available when the microfilm was prepared; there are missing issues.


 

How the Database Records Are Built

A least one record is made for each event appearing in a newspaper. If a person is involved, a portion of that record will contain that person's name and a short description of the newspaper information concerning that person. Associated with the name are also separate pieces of information for storing the name of the newspaper and the date and page on which it appeared. Also inserted into these records are codes indicating the basic nature of each record, i.e., birth announcement, news item, obituary, photograph, etc.

One event in a newspaper can provide the opportunity of using one of a series of "keywords" to locate that newspaper item. As an example, if the desired newspaper item concerned James Brown, village blacksmith who invented a new mousetrap, notice that the keywords are: James Brown, Brown, village blacksmith, blacksmith, invent, and mousetrap. Using any one of the keywords would locate the record about James Brown along with all other records that incorporate the same keyword.


 

Recording Information

Our database file is a collection of records comparable to cards in a card file, and each record contains organized pieces of information concerning an event printed in the newspaper. Following is a description of each element or piece of information in a database record.

Subject. The subject describes the important aspects of the newspaper item. This is the principal item of information that has been collected and normally begins with the name of the person, place, organization, thing, or event within the newspaper article. The later part of the subject is additional information that describes the event. In the mousetrap example, the subject would be Brown James (note that there is no comma between the last and first names). The descriptive information is Blacksmith invents new mousetrap. As recorded, the subject would read Brown James Blacksmith invents new mousetrap. Sometimes, words in this element indicate the type of article, i.e., Adv means the item is an advertisement, and Obit is an announcement of someone's death.

Newspaper Date and Page Number. The date recorded is in a month/day/year format (07/31/1886). Notice that the year also gives the century for that date. The newspaper indexes include not only information printed in the current century but item descriptions from newspapers printed during previous centuries. The page number reveals the page and the section, when applicable, on which it was printed. Complications, particularly between different newspaper formats, precluded our recording the column of the page where the items were printed. Modern papers divide their publication into sections, and the page number will be preceded by the section indicator; i.e., C12, when applicable.

Newspaper Name. This element provides the name of the newspaper in which the item appeared.

Types of Records. The Type Code allows additional discrimination when using keywords to request specific types of records. These codes instruct the search engine to provide specific types of records, i.e., obituaries, birth announcements, etc. These types of record codes do not appear with the other data displayed on the screen.


 

A World of Query Possibilities

Two types of searches are available. One matches the keywords on the search form against the corresponding number of characters in the beginning of the subject of each database record. In the other type, the keywords submitted are matched against the full subject field of database records, regardless of where the words appear in that field.

Beginning of subject field searches. These are simple searches that match the keywords for a person, place, or thing, exactly as you entered them, against the beginning words of the subject of each and every database record provided for in the search form parameters. If you enter Brown J on the search form, the system will return to you information concerning all records that begin with the words Brown J including "Brown James Blacksmith invents new mousetrap" and "Brown J visits mother in Alexandria," etc.

Popular names or commonly used words should be modified with additional words to reduce the size of the response. In the query example cited above, a list would be prepared containing data from every record from the desired newspaper in which the name of Brown was used. Adding other discriminators will pare down the query response volume. If known, include Brown's first name or at least the first letter of his first name. Also modify the date range if applicable and/or indicate the type or types of newspaper articles of interest (by checking the boxes for News Item about Brown or an Obituary for Brown).

Entire subject field searches. The search matches the keyword or keywords on the search form with words in the subject field of database records regardless of where they appear in that field. They can be in the beginning, middle or at the end of the subject field, but if more than one word is used, they must be in the same order as on the search form. Using the same example, entering the word mousetrap will furnish a report on which appears the record "Brown James Blacksmith invents a new mousetrap." (In these examples, the boldface words are illustrations, they will not appear as boldface in the query results.)

Keyword searches for matching words in the entire Subject Field of database records can be requested for matches of an individual word or a group of words. They can be used in combination with other discriminates as shown on the search form. As an example, a query can ask for all records having the word Confederate in the database and can discriminate further by asking only for those involving obituaries appearing in a particular newspaper for a specific date range.


 

About Preparing Search Queries

Following the preparation instructions for each section are Tips or Shortcuts designed to make your queries more productive.


Error Messages. Invalid entries in any section of the search request form will cause an error message to appear on your screen. They are easily remedied by clicking on the "O.K." button and correcting the entry on your search request form.

Entering Search Keywords. Place the name of a person, organization, place, or a keyword or keywords on the blank line that describes the information you seek. Enter only the words that will provide the most optimum results. Elaborate sets of keywords will produce few results and, overly simple or abbreviated keyword sets will usually produce a voluminous response.

Entry of a keyword is mandatory as blank keyword entries are not acceptable. A search keyword must be composed of at least two characters and the keyword or keywords entered may not be longer than 25 characters including spaces between keywords. As the computer system is looking for records that match the keywords placed on the search form, care must be taken to follow the rules.

Tip. When the newspaper citation involves a person, the subject field of the database begins with the person's last name, followed by first names, initials, etc. No comma is used between last and first names, initials, titles, etc., when entering keywords.

Tip. Special characters, and sometimes spaces, are not used in last names or beginning words of a Subject. If the last name of the person that is the subject of your query is O'Brien, omit the apostrophe and enter OBrien. When inquiring about citations for St. Johns Church, enter St.Johns Church (no space between St. and Johns).

Tip. Use terms that would have been used during the period that the newspaper was printed. Instead of Alcoholic Beverages, search for Ardent Spirits or Liquor. In lieu of African American, period newspapers would have used the words Colored or Negro.

Tip. Some family names were spelled differently over the years and between families as in the case of "MacDonald" and "McDonald." To make sure that you receive all of the data that is needed, prepare queries against all possible legitimate spellings.

Tip. It has been a common occurrence for people to use initials in lieu of given names and middle names. If you wish to retrieve all available index citations for James David McDonald, prepare separate queries for McDonald James David; McDonald James D.; McDonald James; and McDonald J. It would be wise to prepare additional queries using the alternative last name spelling of "MacDonald." Preparing all of these queries will take time and effort; it may be more expedient to simply prepare a query for McDonald J and ignore responses for individuals other than those for James David McDonald. This technique will furnish results when the entry was recorded both under the person's full first name or the initial of his first name.

Tip. When asking for name or serial searches, adding a "space" after entering the initial word will help to define what data is exactly wanted. As an example, for information on fairs held in the county, enter "Fair" followed by depressing the space bar. The entry becomes "Fair_" and will preclude you from receiving data on all records beginning with "Fair," such as "Fairfax, Fairview, etc."

Tip. When entering a keyword or keywords for subject field searches, it will be occasionally useful to depress the space bar before entering the first word and after the last word. As an example, if you wish to retrieve information about wells, depress the space bar, enter well and depress the space bar. The entry becomes "_well_" and will preclude query response from including words that incorporate "well" such as "dwelling" and "Ewell."

Short Cut. Keywords are not "case sensitive." This means that it is not important that Brown begin with a upper case "B." brown is acceptable; consequently, if information is sought for a person named LeRoy and you are not sure if it is spelled LeRoy, or Leroy, or LeRoi, you can avoid the issue by entering lero (omitting the y or i).


 

Entering Sources

This section of the search form lets you select a newspaper and time period to be searched. Only a single box can be checked to display data from one newspaper or newspaper time period. Additional searches must be requested if data is desired from more than one newspaper or from other newspaper time periods.

Tip. Many early local newspapers provided information about citizens living a considerable distance from the newspaper's hometown. Don't select a newspaper based solely on the town name in the masthead as some papers used correspondents from neighboring villages and towns.


 

Entering Dates

When the newspaper box is checked, the appropriate time range is automatically placed in date boxes. However, this is a default range for the entire date range for the newspaper or newspaper segment. For a narrower date range, enter in the appropriate boxes the first and last publication dates that constitute the range desired for your search. The date format is mm/dd/yyyy. Observe the following date examples: For January 1, 1886, enter 01/01/1886; for June 20, 1903, enter 06/20/1903; and for December 1, 1936, enter 12/01/1936. Check to see that the new dates that you enter are within the default range or the search request will fail.

Tip. Make certain that numeric zeros (0) are used, not alphabetic "o's" (o). Alphabetic characters in these entries constitute invalid requests.

Tip. Don't let the publication dates shown stop you from creating a query for an event that may have occurred before the earliest newspaper date. Many of the papers listed were publishing before these dates but the issues were not saved, and later the paper reprinted historic articles or stories. Dates shown in the indexes are issue dates from which the index item was extracted.



 

Selecting Item Types

This section provides the opportunity to be selective about the types of newspaper items that will be included in the query response. Placing a check mark in the top box will cause query responses to include all of the newspaper item types. By checking some of the individual item types, the query can be tailored to provide only those types of newspaper items needed from the index database. Of course, not all newspapers that have been indexed feature all of the item types listed.

Tip. Many of the newspaper item types appear only in the more modern newspapers. Checking the boxes for recipes and comics when querying early newspapers would produce few results. Some of the early newspapers did not have the ability to print photographs but they did publish drawings and etchings. In our database, these renditions are included in the photograph category.



 

Suggestions for Productive Queries

Query Errors. In most cases, computer search systems will look for an exact match between the search information in the query and the data in the records being searched. It is very important that entry errors not be present in the query and that formatting rules be followed, as the same rules were used when creating the original indexes.

Complex Queries. The Newspaper Index Search System was designed with great flexibility for preparing queries. The database that it uses is huge; it exceeds 1.15 million entries. These facts provide the opportunity to prepare smart queries that will produce the desired results with a minimum of response time. However, when not used properly, it is possible to create very large query responses which require lengthy seek-and-find times.

Large Query Responses. Advertisements constitute a significant portion of the index database and are generally useful only to support specific studies. It is advisable to avoid listing advertisements for selection, as the size of the query response can mask the desirable response items.

Smart Queries. Generally, a search query which does not discriminate by providing newspaper publication dates and checking only selective newspaper item types will produce maximum results. However, maximum results may require maximum response processing time and produce a voluminous response. A smart query is probably one that is selective among the choices offered on the Search Form but not restrictive.



 

Viewing Query Responses

The first page of the query results is displayed on your computer screen as soon as the data has been extracted from the database. At the top of each page is shown the current page number, the total number of pages of query results and the number of records that matched your search form parameters. The maximum size response that a query can produce is 10 pages comprising 200 records, i.e., 20 lines each on 10 screen views.

To view the second or succeeding report screen move your cursor to the bottom of the page and click on the "Page Down." You can scroll forward toward the end of the report or back to the beginning by clicking the "Page Down" box or the "Page Up" box.

Tip. If the maximum size of the query response, i.e. 200 lines, does not satisfy your need, you can obtain the next 200 lines associated with the query by modifying your original request. First, click on the box at the bottom of the screen to "Modify the previous newspaper index database search." Next, on the resulting search request form, change only the date range by altering the beginning date in the range to reflect one day later than the newest date on your first query response. You can continue this procedure until successive displays of 200 items each produces the desired results.


 

Availability of Newspapers on Microfilm

The newspapers used to create these indexes are available at the Virginia Room in the City of Fairfax Regional Library, 10360 North Street, Fairfax, Virginia 22030-2514, except for the Reston Times which is available at the Reston Regional Library.

Customers located outside the library's service area may submit one order at a time, requesting up to a maximum of 10 citations per order, for $.50 a page (some articles may be more than one printed page) plus $3.00 postage and handling, by contacting the Virginia Room at 703-293-6227, press 6 or by email at va_room@fairfaxcounty.gov. Requests will be processed in the order in which they are received. Since response time is affected by the volume of requests and staff availability, please allow at least two to four weeks for a reply.

Microfilm copies of the Rambler are of very poor quality. This affects the quality of the photocopies significantly, making good reproductions impossible in some cases. In these situations, copies of the Washington Star may be requested via Interlibrary Loan at your local library. Also, most Rambler articles are full page or larger and may require multiple copies for each citation.


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