I’m probably among the very few who would have taken much note of the image of a young woman above the announcement of her wedding that was part of an old newspaper page from the Louisville Courier-Journal.
I care because the young woman was my mother. The article had appeared Nov. 14, 1922, when she was 25 years old. It noted that she was a member of the Players’ Club and had been manager of the vault department of the Citizens-Union Fourth Street Bank, facts of which I had been unaware.
Another clipping I came across at the same time was the obituary of Dr. Ap Morgan Vance, who was described as “one of Louisville’s most valued citizens.” It was dated Dec. 10, 1915, just over a century ago. He was my grandfather. I had known he was famous, but there were other items in the obituary that came as a surprise to me, including that he had served with the Kentucky Militia when it was trying to settle the Hatfield-McCoy feud in the late 19th century.
Then there was a more recent story from the files of the Courier-Journal — July 4, 1979 — about the exhumation of dozens of remains from a family cemetery in Louisville so that an expressway could be built through the land. The remains were mostly those of my McCawley ancestors and included my grandfather, another noted Louisville physician.
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I remembered the incident, but the story confirmed some uncomfortable facts that I had only known as rumors. Among the remains were those of several slaves who had been buried alongside the family that owned them. It saddens me to know that I come from a family of slave owners.
The story also mentioned that not included among the remains were those of my grandfather’s brother. He had been killed in a Civil War battle and was buried in a military cemetery in Georgia. It was a cemetery for Confederate soldiers.
The stories were only a small portion of a number of other newspaper items about my predecessors. There were several classified ads that had been placed by my father in the 1920s when he was a real estate agent in Louisville. Another ad listed him as a sales representative for a Louisville paint company.
I came across these items on a website called newspapers.com, which provides subscribers access to the digitized versions of scores of American newspapers, many dating back to their beginnings.
For me, the process of reading the stories was akin to opening a very personal treasure chest, exposing me to information about family members that I had either never known or had only heard about in vague but unconfirmed stories.
Because the website is still in the process of enlisting newspapers to make their microfilmed copies from the past easily accessible to the public, there is a limit to the geographical areas that have the service available. I was fortunate because the Louisville Courier-Journal, which served the area where my family had lived for so many generations, was among the first to be featured on the newspapers.com website.
Now I’m delighted to have this same kind of historical information available about Bartholomew County and its neighbors through The Republic’s partnership with this same company. You can find it at therepublic.com/archives.
As of a few weeks ago, Bartholomew County residents have access to digitized copies of every issue printed by The Republic and its predecessors all the way back to 1872. The agreement also opened doors to past issues of the other newspapers owned by AIM Media Indiana.
The microfilmed copies of the publications were loaned to the website that in turn converted each page to a digitized version. The microfilmed copies were provided by the Bartholomew County Public Library, which also was given access to the digitized materials.
Both the newspaper and the library have opened these files to the public. The library offers the service free of charge, but users can only access the material from computers within the library. The newspaper provides the material for a monthly fee to anyone able to access the Internet.
As a research resource, the website was a quantum leap forward as far as Bartholomew County history (both institutional and personal) was concerned. I know because as Bartholomew County historian, I have often been stymied in finding out about people and events from the past.
That plight has been shared by people from the county interested in tracing their own family histories. Too often genealogical records for individuals are limited to birth and death dates on cemetery headstones.
The newspaper and library did provide some limited avenues for research. The microfilmed copies for past newspapers were valuable but usually only if the researcher knew the exact date when an event took place. Without that specific information, research on an individual or subject usually required mind-numbing perusals of the microfilmed copies, page by bleary page.
The Republic did have an additional resource but one for which access was limited to staff members. In 1929, some farsighted editor started a practice that successors faithfully followed until around the end of the 20th century. Each day the editor was required to go through the newspaper and mark local stories that would later be clipped and filed into individual envelopes, either by last name or subject matter.
It was a great resource for historians. I recall one instance in which a community leader was preparing a report on the history of an important initiative he had chaired from the 1960s and ’70s. He had written much of the report based on his own records and recollections but wanted to use past newspaper stories for additional details. He was given access to the newspaper’s clip files and after several hours emerged from the library muttering to himself. He told me that he would have to rewrite his report since the clippings contained information that was counter to his recollections.
The details about local history that are now readily available at therepublic.com/archives provide much greater depth to information about the past.
I used the website to research a recent column about a painting of famed Columbus educator Samuel Wertz by renowned Brown County artist T.C. Steele. There were stories that traced the evolution of the painting’s locations during the late 20th century, but there was also an item about the artist’s 1912 visits to Columbus in which he painted Wertz, including one that detailed a tour of Bartholomew County the educator provided to him.
Be warned, this website can be addictive. Scott Hardin, digital media director for AIM Media Indiana, has been tracking site usage for several weeks and told me that the average time for individual usage is more than 13 minutes. Some like myself and local researcher Donna Kuhlman would consider that a brief stay. “I’ve spent hours at a time looking up information,” she said.
At a time when many older people like me freely admit to being technologically challenged and somewhat fearful of things such as websites, this window into Bartholomew County’s past represents an invaluable opportunity to learn more about our community and our history.
I know because weeks after I came across it, I still look at that clipping of the 25-year-old woman who belonged to the Players’ Club, worked as a manager of a bank’s vault department and married my father.
I would only know that woman as a middle-age and later very old person who had given birth to me later in her life, but as I look at that picture, I see another person. I wish I had known her as well.
Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Republic, in partnership with newspapers.com, has digitized more than 700,000 local newspaper pages dating back to 1872 that are fully searchable and available for purchase at the republic.com/archives.
Local newspapers included in the archive are The Evening Republican, Columbus Herald, The Columbus Republican and The Republic. There are three cost options.
Option 1: $4.95 a month (or $39.95 a year) gives you access to all four Columbus newspapers and other AIM Media Indiana newspapers in Seymour, Franklin, Brown County and Greenfield as they are added to the archives.
Option 2: $19.90 a month (or $139.90 per year) gives you access to nearly 3,900 newspapers (more than 48 million pages) including The Republic and all AIM Media Indiana papers when they go online.
Option 3: Free at Bartholomew County Public Library, 536 5th St. Columbus. Library members can get access to The Republic and other AIM Media Indiana papers when they are put online. The Republic and other Columbus newspapers are available now.
Go to therepublic.com/archives to start a seven-day free trial.