Thursday, September 07, 2006

Google News Archives

Shiny new tool for credibly raising hell or just raising ancestors

That precocious Silicon Valley child Google did it again. Tuesday, they debuted their News Archives search. Seems those guys keep opening doors faster than I can keep butting against them.

In the early 90s, when I first worked for a media company wealthy enough to afford LexisNexis, it took months for me to stop gushing (inwardly, be cool) at how completely it changed my world. No more covering local stories without context as opposed to spending weeks on the phone, in a brick and mortar library or traveling. Covering a civil trial on a cutting edge subject? No prob. Need sources? There. At my fingertips a world of stories, cases, decisions. Contacts, contacts, contacts. Understanding.

Yesterday, I took Google News Archives for a spin.

Oh, I wasn't sold at first. My primary use of online facts lately is for genealogy. I'’m pretty cynical about the main culprits of genealogy specific websites. Pay for the index, then, when you find something that looks likely, pay for entry into the data. Weed through their pocked search engines and, maybe, when you get there, you'’ll find the information. But you'’ll surely be quite a few dollars poorer.

GNA worked somewhat the same way. Granted, the search is free, like all Google'’s toys (sorry, tools). That was a definite plus as was the Google search engine. But, mostly, the full info requires a fee. Smacked of those Utah based sites.

Then, I got cooking. Although most of the historic newspaper sites I found through GNA gave only half-assed OCR read, it'’s enough to know if you'’re on the mark before you pay, taking the gambling aspect out of a search for specifics. That was very good.

Right away, I found Google underestimated its timeframe of 200 years of archives. A name search came up with a 227-year-old article by "Archibald Campbell, Esg. Commanding his Majesty'’s forces in Georgia"” from the Edinburgh Advertiser, Feb. 26, 1779. A little too early for the person I was looking for, but a quick click, and I had a timeline to narrow it down.

Newspaper articles were not the only search results. I found entries for public records, for censuses, draft registrations and numerous results leading to the databases of the pay genealogy sites.

From there I got real. Seems I'’ve needed genealogical information from a court fight over an estate that spanned 50 years, from the late 1920s to the 70s. Not even on the Gen sites. Thus far, my only alternative had been traveling to Omaha. On GNA, in .02 seconds, I had abstracts of the cases from two legal research sites (full files for less than two gallons of gasoline) and two corresponding newspaper articles. All the info included that I needed for my purposes.

All that made me wonder how my real-time life would have worked with GNA. One of my knottiest Georgia trials involved covering the first US personal liability trial attempting to link cancer and overhead power lines. LexisNexis had been invaluable then. Now, a quick GNA search and there it all was, articles from newspapers, magazines and technical journals. Case law. Everything.

Only now I'’m sitting in front of my home PC, in my jammies, blogging. I can adapt.

BTW, before anyone comments on my use of "“child,"” remember, I'm over 50. The bulk of those guys are under 30. They are children. In fact, one of them is mine.


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