Historic newspaper archive is now online

Searching for historical information just got a lot less tedious.

The online newspaper database created by the Fort Dodge Public Library is now available and ready to search. It holds historic editions of The Messenger, the Fort Dodge Daily Chronicle, the Gowrie News, Dayton Leader and more dating back to 1856.

The website, fortdodge.advantage-preservation.com, is free, and no password is needed.

“We are happy to be a part of this partnership with the Fort Dodge Public Library,” said Larry D. Bushman, publisher of The Messenger. “People can now search for stories and information from The Messenger archives up to 1923.”

The library board and staff also thought it was a very valuable resource to offer, said Library Director Barb Shultz.

“We’re excited to offer it,” she said.

The online database is keyword searchable, so finding information is as easy as using Google, said reference librarian Rita Schmit.

“I had a request from a gentleman in Oregon,” Schmit said. “He was hoping to find something that was in the Fort Dodge papers. Now I could just pop in their name.”

Using microfilm, Schmit said, one would have to know the approximate date that an item was printed, and visually scan page by page until it was found.

“An obituary could be printed anywhere they had space,” she said, “and it could just be three sentences.”

Shultz said she’s been working on the digitalization for at least a year.

“We needed to find out about copyright law, and who owns the content of the newspapers,” Shultz said. “We can go up to the year 1923 to be able to digitize newspapers without running into copyright issues. That’s what we’ve done.”

These archives provide primary-source documents to what was going on back then.

“In the early 1900s that was the way people got their news, so it had to be the eyes of the world. It was before telephones,” she said. “It’s primary for its documentation of what was going on in the first World War, for example. … Those things are invaluable, I think. Especially to family, friends and relatives that are looking for that sort of thing.”

The archives are a bit sparse back in 1856, but they do have a wealth of data on Fort Dodge’s founding families, she said.

C. B. Smeltzer was “one of the city fathers and was on the city council,” she said. “He was making decisions about land in the earliest ones we have available. And you can find information on George Ringland; those were of particular interest to the Smeltzer Board of course.”

The Ann Smeltzer Charitable Trust and Catherine Vincent Deardorf Charitable Foundation both provided grants for the project. Many of the area newspapers were available on microfilm thanks to a project 20 or 30 years ago by the State Historical Society of Iowa.

Librarians are sometimes called upon to help find a name printed in early newspapers, so this system will save them a lot of time.

“Looking page by page can be fairly time-consuming,” Schmit said. “We do them as we have time.”

There’s also another advantage to computerizing the records; now they can be digitally remastered.

“I know some of the earlier issues of the newspaper that were on microfilm have been cleaned up,” said Shultz, “so they’re a lot easier to read online than they probably are in the microfilms format.”

Scans of The Messenger came from the library’s collection of microfilm, which is still available. Unlike the online database, these archives continue forward in time until about six months before present day.

Microfilms of other Webster County newspapers were provided by the Webster County Genealogical Society.