I had just started doing genealogy, and my (now grown) children were still quite young and asleep in their beds. Randomly, I searched my own name online and up popped a link to a newspaper photo of me that I forgot existed. I was 12 years old and a local paper had come to my classroom and asked what Christmas meant to me. They took a photo, and that was that. There I was, staring at little me all these years later.
What I stumbled upon that night was a genealogy goldmine, Old Fulton New York Post Cards, now referred to as FultonHistory.com. Tom Tryniski, a retired engineer, created a website archiving old postcards and newspapers in 1999. Since then, he has managed to share nearly 50 million American and Canadian newspapers at no charge, while funding the entire operation himself. (Put in perspective, The Library of Congress has almost 13 million pages on their Chronicling America site for which they have received millions of dollars in funding.) Tryniski's website can be a bit daunting, so I’m going to share a few shortcuts I’ve learned over the years that will make searching more manageable.
Search “all of the words.” Self-explanatory, but there is a refinement that will make your results manageable. Searching the term—Joan Smith Buffalo died—will find every page that contains each word anywhere on the newspaper page. Quotation marks around your main search content—“Joan Smith” Buffalo died—will result in it being treated as one word, therefore must be in every hit in exactly that order.
Boolean search options
Boolean search is a type of search allowing users to combine keywords with operators (or modifiers) such as AND, NOT, and OR to further produce more relevant results. For example, a Boolean search could be "born" AND "New York". This would limit the search results to only those documents containing the two keywords.
Using AND finds only newspaper pages where both words are present.
Example: married AND died
Using OR finds every newspaper page on which one, or the other, or both words were present.
Example: married OR died
Using NOT preceded by AND is used to eliminate a word or particular spelling of a name from your search results
Example: married AND NOT died
The word married would be on all pages found, but only those which did not also include the word died. But, you should realize that eliminating that word may also eliminate the one result you are seeking. Here is an example that uses NOT twice. Example: Smith AND NOT Smyth AND NOT John.
? – Using this in place of any letter avoids additional searches. This is handy if you’re unsure of the name spellings. Unsure if it’s Catharine or Catherine? Try searching Cath?rine. If needed, more than one ? can be used in a word.
w/4 – The w represents "within" so a search for Smith w/4 married means that Smith and married must be within 4 or fewer words of each other and either word may be first. The number 4 can be replaced with a number you choose but I suggest you keep it below 10 or your results become unrelated to your actual search.
Restrict your search to a single city, year, and/or publication
If your search is concentrated in a particular city or year, adding this in your search will greatly reduce results. Example: Smith AND married AND Albany AND 1926.
Genealogists, historians and even the FBI and CIA have come to rely on Tryniski’s site as a go-to source. I’ve found ancestors getting traffic tickets, making Red Cross donations in WWII, and being involved in, let’s say, shadier activities. It all adds color to our family tree, right?
Carol DiPirro-Stipkovits is a National Genealogical Society member, Association of Professional Genealogists member as well as a guest lecturer and freelance writer. Carol is also a board member and President of the Niagara County Genealogical Society. Send questions or comments to her at email@example.com.