Sometime late last year I was alerted to or offered a new app for my Android Samsung Galaxy 3 cellphone called Old News USA. I downloaded it and promptly forgot about it. A week ago I happened to notice the icon for it, a US map seemingly covered in newsprint with the word “News” in the center, and decided to try it out with one of my family surnames where I knew that Aaron Samuel TISSENBAUM, my gggrandfather, had arrived in Baltimore in 1900 (June 16 on the Dresden and died in Baltimore on June 6, 1907, just under seven years later). To my surprise I got two hits, one for 1903 in Baltimore from a German language newspaper I had never heard of, Der Deutsche Correspondent. It turns out that this was an important paper in its day, published from 1841-1918, when anti-German feeling at the end of WWI doomed it. See, for instance, the Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_Deutsche_Correspondent. The second hit was from a 1921 issue of the New York Herald, with a mysterious notation at the bottom: “tissenbaum not found in OCR text”. Since I knew this TISSENBAUM could not be Aaron, I initially ignored that hit but will come back to it below since it relates to an even more important find, the Library of Congress (LoC) digitized newspaper collection “Chronicling America.”
When I clicked on the 1903 find, it brought up a dense eight-column page of Gothic newsprint, with perhaps 70 or 80 lines of text in each column and nothing to indicate where my TISSENBAUM find was. (In other searches conducted since then, the search item is highlighted in green.) On the small cell phone screen, the full page was unreadable so I tried zooming in, but was put off by a seemingly endless process of moving the zoom window around to find what I was looking for, and what was supposed to be there, without success. So I moved to Plan B: download the app on my computer with its much more manageable screen size. But that turned out to be a dud, too. The app has, apparently, only been written for Android cell phones and tablets! See: http://revgenea.com/ and http://revgenea.com/features/.
Having learned that Revgenea’s app was apparently not available for my HP PC, I then moved to Plan C: find another source for these old newspapers. The first one that came up was Newspapers.com and I did, indeed, find Der Deutsche Correspondent there: https://newspapers.com/title_4198/der_deutsche_correspondent/. This site has the issues arranged by year, but you cannot search all years simultaneously. No matter, I already knew that the year I wanted was 1903. Starting from 1841, newspapers.com then skipped various early years before seeming to cover most later years in sequence. But then another gotcha: as I scrolled down to 1900, I found that the next year listed was 1904—they didn’t have the 1903 issue that Revgenea had.
Frustrated, but determined not to give up, I then noticed something at the bottom of the Old News USA search screen that I had missed before when I was totally absorbed in searching for my gggfather. There was this notice: “This app makes it easy to find interesting articles in the Chronicling America collection of historic newspapers.” I had never heard of “Chronicling America” before, and had assumed that Old News had digitized this collection, wherever it originated, and made it available to the user. But lo and behold, not so! That collection was created and digitized through the auspices of the United States Library of Congress (LoC) which makes it freely available to anyone, including software developers, so long as they attribute the source. Of course Old News did not provide a link to the Library of Congress site because, as it turns out, it is perfectly possible to do all your searches directly from there. What Revgenea has done is merely to provide a front end to the LoC collection, albeit a very nice one, that makes it very easy to manage and save your searches. For the millions of users who mainly or exclusively use Android devices for their computing needs (especially if they have a larger screen tablet), Old News USA is a very acceptable solution, but not necessarily the final one as I will explain below.
The Chronicling America web site at: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/. is both visually attractive and easy to use. At the top you have a search bar very similar to what Old News USA gives you, with a choice of viewing all states at one time or limiting your search to a particular one, and searching over the entire date range of 1789-1924 or limiting the time to any shorter period you choose. The bar below the search bar provides four more choices on the right: Print, Subscribe, Share/Save, Give Feedback. The first and last of these are self-explanatory. The Subscribe option allows you to be notified by email or RSS feed as new titles are added to the collection. The Share/Save option allows you to share your find via several of the most common social networking apps, or directly email it to someone, or save it to your Website or blog. On the left side of this bar is the current total of pages available–as of March 29, 2107: 11,790,560.
Most of the page below these two bars is devoted to showing large thumbnails of three pages from historic newspapers of exactly 100 years ago, which, of course, you can zoom in on to read at your leisure. A very nice touch! Other options at the left side of the screen lead you to more information about the collection. From some of these you learn that the site was created as a joint venture between the United States National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the LoC. Grants are applied for by state institutions to participate in the project: http://www.loc.gov/ndnp/awards/index.html “In 2004, the NEH announced guidelines for annual cycles of two-year [National Digital Newspaper Program] NDNP awards to enhance the study of American history. These awards enable cultural heritage institutions to join the NDNP for the purpose of selecting, digitizing, and delivering to the LC approximately 100,000 newspaper pages per award. Following a competitive application process, the NEH made its first awards in 2005. No awards were issued in 2006. The application process resumed in 2007, and since that time the NEH has annually solicited proposals for both initial awards to new institutions as well as continuing awards to returning partners.”
The institution that provided the digitizing of the early Maryland newspapers that appeared in my search was the University of Maryland at College Park. Considered a state partner of the NEH, it received a new grant in 2016. Currently 43 states and one territory are represented with the goal being to have early newspapers from all 50 states. There are now over 2,000 newspapers in the collection, and the digitization project is to be expanded to cover newspapers from 1690-1963.
Back to Aaron TISSENBAUM. It turns out that he was one of five incorporators of the Baltimore Hebrew Colonial Association, that was later supported by Baron de Hirsch. This was one of several attempts to set up Jewish agricultural colonies in the U.S. See the Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Colonization_Association. The Jewish name for the Baltimore colony was “Ya’azor Town” (from the Hebrew ya’azor ‘God will help’), but at the time it was colloquially referred to as “Jew Town” and lasted up until the early 1940s. See the Baltimore Sun article from 2008: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2008-03-30/news/0803300241_1_commune-colonial-society-shtetl. Until this find, we knew very little about Aaron apart from the story that he had once passed a child out the window of a building to safety during the great Baltimore fire of 1904 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Baltimore_Fire) and that he had a dairy farm in Ya’azor Town with a horse named Daisy.
My initial find of this information was via the Android-only app Old News USA. For me its most useful feature was a .pdf download option, the fourth of five options at the right of the search bar. If you open the .pdf file in Microsoft’s Edge browser you can select text for copying and pasting just as you would in a word processor document. For my document, where the original was in the old Gothic German script, the pasting of the relevant text into my word processor (Libre Office Writer) came with a surprise: the pasted text came out in a Roman script, Liberation Serif. Here is the way MS Edge transcribed the selection along with my translation of it:
Die ”Hebrew Colonial Association” wurde ohne Aktienkapital von Harry Weinstein, Abraham Weinstein, Max Weinstein, Tobias Goodman u. Aaron Tissenbaum incorporirt.
Translation: “The Hebrew Colonial Association was incorporated without share capital by Harry Weinstein, Abraham Weinstein, Max Weinstein, Tobias Goodman and Aaron Tissenbaum.”
I will not go into further detail of the Android app since the Chronicling America site also provides the .pdf option for viewing or saving, as well as a large .jp2 format. Furthermore it provides a highlighting of the search term, where, in this case, at least, Old News USA did not. That highlighting also made it easy to find the second hit for TISSENBAUM, the one I mentioned at the beginning with the mysterious notation: “tissenbaum not found in OCR text.” And here on the LoC site was additional information that would explain the comment. In addition to the .pdf and .jp2 formats, the LoC site also has a Text option, based on Optical Character Recognition (OCR). OCR is a technique for recognizing and discriminating the individual characters or words in a photographed or scanned image of text, so that the text can be searched by computer. In the second hit that I first got for “TISSENBAUM,” from the New York Herald of October 3, 1921, p. 18, in the first column under Miscellaneous Leases was this text (obtained by OCR, but only provided on the Chronicling America site):
- M. Hirsch & Co. leased floors as
follows:’ For Cross & Brown in 38-42 |
Fast Twenty-ninth street to Cohn &
Holt, in 32 Kast Thlrty-tirst street to
the Smart Set Dress Company, in 144
West Twenty-seventh street to Haus- j
man & Brickman, in 44-50 tCast Thirty- j
second street to Semmel, Bash & Tissenbaum.
I know of a whole family of NewYork TISSENBAUMs who are distant cousins. But from the last name alone in the item above there is no way to tell which specific person is referred to. Possibly the only way to find out (unless someone alive today remembers that company name) would be to search New York incorporation records. In any case this is not a major preoccupation for me, but this citation provides the explanation for the OCR comment on the Old News hit for the same item.
OCR is rarely perfect depending on the size and condition of the original image, spelling variations, punctuation marks, the discriminatory power of the software, etc. In the text above several errors are immediately obvious. In the third line “Fast” should be “East”, with E and F being hard to discriminate. Similarly in the next line “Kast” should be “East” and “Thirty-tirst” is likely “Thirty-first”. It would also appear that there were seven (7) previous Leases discussed under the Miscellaneous Leases heading on the page. But when I checked the original image, there was no numbering of the various leases listed. Most likely the number “8” here at the beginning of the citation is a misreading of a capital S, so that the leasing firm was S.M. Hirsch & Co. As shown above TISSENBAUM is correctly identified, but when I checked the original page image, the search term was hyphenated and spread over two lines: ”Tis-senbaum”. The OCR search algorithm used by Old News could not make the connection; apparently the LoC software used a stronger algorithm that could!
The bottom line here is that the Chronicling America collection of digitized early American newspapers is a valuable new resource. If you have ancestors who were in the United States between 1789 and 1924, it is definitely worth looking into. But even if you use the user-friendly and intuitive Old News USA interface to access it, be sure to go back and check with the LoC website so that nothing is missed.
The original .pdf page from Friday, May 22, 1903 of Der Deutsche Correspondent is shown below.
Jeffrey (Yitzkhaq Moshe) KNISBACHER was born in 1941, Baltimore, Maryland of Galician descent on his father’s side and Ukrainian, on my mother’s. His education includes a BA from Johns Hopkins University, BHL from Baltimore Hebrew College, MA and PhD from Brown University.
He has worked at the IBM Research Center, University of Pittsburgh, and as a teacher and analyst for the US government. Jeffrey has published widely.