Posted by: downtothesea | January 2, 2010

Historical Newspapers: an Addiction for the New Year!

There have been a handful of websites that absolutely blew my socks off in 2009, most by adding content to their already fantastic sites that I desperately needed to close holes in research.  Today I want to highlight a website whose potential I blithely and naively ignored for…I shudder to say it…years, until very, very recently.

Thanks to a great conversation on the  mailing list for Niagara Co, New York, NYNIAGAR-L, I was encouraged to take another look at a website I had visited before but whose interface confused me enough to dismiss it.

The website is called, curiously, Old Fulton New York Post Cards, and it is at its heart a search engine for a huge number of historical New York State newspapers.  The Genealogue makes mention of it in 2006 as a “Genealogy Site I Don’t Hate!” so I had to give it another try.  Once I looked past the (largely unused?) huge chat panel encompassing the right hand half of the page and learned to ignore the creepy “web crawler” (you’ll have to see for yourself) at the bottom of the page, I discovered what a true gem this site is. 

From this site I was able to access almost a hundred years worth of the Niagara Falls Gazette, a newspaper I had previously only been able to view on microfilm at the Niagara Falls Public Library (a hard enough drive when I lived in Toronto, but now that I’m in Maine, frequent trips there are entirely out of the question).  The newspaper pages on Old Fulton New York Postcards display as PDFs, making them blessedly easy to work with, and the name recognition component of the search engine works much better than expected.

To find a list of the newspapers indexed on the site, scroll down the left-hand search pane and watch for a link to a list of them among the announcements from the webmaster scrolling in a marquee across the page.  Confusing?  Yeah.  Here’s a link to the list instead.

The site is quirky and takes some patient getting used to, but once I began finding newspaper articles referencing the Gavins and the McCabes I was willing to put up with whatever odd interface the site threw my way.  A caveat, though:  if you, like me, have never before had the opportunity to read more than your ancestors’ obits in a historical newspaper, prepare yourself for the possibility that you might read something significantly less than flattering about a revered ancestor.  I am still coming to terms with my discoveries about the kind of man my great-great grandfather Michael Gavin seems to have been, at least according to the papers…remembering that  journalists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries seemed to have had very few qualms about telling it “like it was.”

But that’s another story for another time.



  1. I love Tom’s site and he continues to add papers regularly. Look for FAQ Help Index at the top, right, of the page to learn how to search specific papers. Don’t limit yourself to papers from the Falls. I haven’t done much in WNY on the site but I know for CNY, papers picked up stories from around the region.

    • I feel like such a dope for missing the boat on the site for as long as I did! Thanks a million for the tip to learn how to search individual papers…I am still learning how powerful that site really is. Hmmm…maybe I’ll mess around on that for a little while…perfect activity while waiting out a snowstorm!

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