Friday, July 8, 2011

Follow Friday - Lisa Alzo on Google News Archives

Source of inspiration: Alzo, Lisa A. "Google's Archives: News You Can Use." Internet Genealogy 6 (June/July 2011): 7-9.

I've known about Google News Archive for a while, but haven't really spent much time with it. This is largely because I work in an academic library and have easy access to other subscription resource for newspapers. But after reading Alzo's article I decided to play with the Google News Archives and found a lot to like about using this tool to search newspapers for some of my ancestors.

I decided to try modeling some of Alzo's examples in her article using my own genealogical case study, Marion Constance Greenleaf (1871 - 1900). Marion Greenleaf was my great-great aunt, the older sister of my great-grandfather Lewis Stone Greenleaf. In the few years that I've been researching this family group, I've found them mentioned numerous times in the society pages of the New York Times recounting some of their years in Lenox, Massachusetts. Marion in particular has caught my attention - maybe because she died at age 29 on Christmas Eve of the year 1900. Or maybe because she was the oldest, but never married. But I've long wanted to do a more detailed tracing of Marion in the New York Times society pages, trying to develop a more thorough picture of this aunt who died young and left no direct descendants of her own.

My search was quite simple - a basic keyword search for the name Marion Greenleaf. The first page of results, 10 articles, were all highly relevant to my search for Marion. The results all mentioned the Marion Greenleaf I'm interested in, were published in the New York Times, published between 1892 and 1900, with the first hit being news of Marion's death from typhoid fever in December 1900.

The second page of results was also fairly relevant:
- 4 articles mentioned my Marion Greenleaf, and were published in the New York Times between 1893 and 1900
- 2 articles mentioned Marion's niece, Marion Greenleaf Nash, my great-aunt, presumably named after her aunt.
- 2 articles mentioned an unrelated Marion Greenleaf who apparently lives in Miami, FL - not the right person, but the results can't be faulted given my search
- 2 articles mentioned the words "Marion" and "Greenleaf" in close proximity, but not as someone's name

On the first page of results, nine of the articles were for "Marion Greenleaf", but one result had the spelling variant "Marian Greenleaf". Having noticed her name spelled as both Marion and Marian in the society columns I've read, I was pleasantly surprised that the variant spelling appear in the results set. I'm not sure quite why this is though, so would be cautious about assuming Google will return variant spellings automatically. A quick test shows the reverse is also true - a keyword search for Marian Greenleaf brings up articles with the spelling Marion Greenleaf - but the results vary from the first search.

Google's results nicely list the source of the original article and the date, so it is easy to see what the original sources of the news items are. The result listings also make at easy to see which articles have an attached fee for viewing at their publisher web sites.

Clicking through to the publisher's site, will sometimes provide additional information that helps me evaluate the article's relevance to my research.

In the above example from the Boston Globe, I get additional information on finding the article in the Boston Globe, plus a brief abstract. Noting which articles of interest carried a charge, yet having the basic citation information at hand, I was easily able to return to my employer library's subscription database resources to find this article available through other means. [Yes, this is not the Marion Greenleaf I started searching for, but her niece, my great-aunt. I did get some additional information from this obituary.]

But I think the feature of the Google News Archive I most like is the timeline.

The timeline serves several purposes. First, it quickly illustrates the date distribution of the results set. Second, clicking on a decade of interest will narrow the results further.

Looking at the distribution for the articles written in the 1890's, I can see a peak from 1892-1894. Drilling down further to examine 1893 in detail, I see that there is another peak in July-September, which logically corresponds with society news about the "season" in Lenox, Massachusetts.

My search could be improved by adding additional keywords, such as "Lenox" to the name "Marion Greenleaf," or by using Google's Advanced Archive Search which has additional features like limiting by date, source, or article price. In the end, I found some fairly interesting things in my search for additional information on Marion, but that's another post.


  1. I recently acquired and old book with a bookplate and signature of Marion C. Greenleaf 1892, I noticed your blog when researching her name. I placed this book on ebay if you are interested

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