Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Greatest Local History Resource Ever: The Plain Dealer, 1845-1991

Cleveland Public Library is now providing access to what I believe is the greatest local history resource ever - the full text of the Plain Dealer from 1845 to 1991. With your Cleveland Public Library card, you can now do research that would have previously required weeks spent in research libraries and archives. Even then, you might not have been able to learn what you can with this database.

Let's say you want to learn more about your house. Try searching for the most minimal part of the address that would still be unique - something along the lines of "XXXX StreetName" - omit the suffix that indicates the road type and the city. I got 34 hits for mine - and the name of my street changed in the early 1950s. Most of these results will likely be real estate advertisements. They'll provide some hint as to what features might have been added (or subtracted) at any one time. Remember that in 1905, the city of Cleveland street names and numbers changed - check Old and New Street Numbers to figure out what the pre-1905 number for your address might have been.

Or, say you wanted to research someone. The newspaper of 50 or 100 years ago wasn't the skinny little thing it is today. The Sunday paper was often 150 or more pages. It was a lot more gossipy in nature, too. Take I.T. Frary, author of Early Homes of Ohio and membership and publicity secretary for the Cleveland Museum of Art. I've been doing some extensive research on Frary, and without this database, it simply wouldn't be possible.

Why? Because of the volume of information that is provided in the variety of little articles. Would you expect today to learn when a person in similar position was going on vacation, or who they might have as a guest in their house? Of course not. But in the 1920s and 1930s, it was not uncommon.

There still remains the challenge of assembling all of these little facts into something useful, of course. I believe that this represents a great democratizing force. No longer is research limited to those who are physically able to visit archival collections during their limited hours of operation, hours that so often seem to coincide with the hours they work. I can't wait to see what we come up with as a result.


  1. Popped in there and it asked for a username and password. Did I miss something?

  2. That's strange. It's doing it for me, too. I'll post here as soon as I hear about it being fixed.

  3. It would be great if former Clevelanders without a local library card could also gain access. Any reciprocity available?

  4. Russ, it should be fixed now.

    Anonymous, that would be nice. Alas, licensing agreements limit the size of the group that the library can provide access to. In the past, in similar situations, I've begged others to let me use their library cards.

  5. chris: we need feature articles...sunday magazine style...written 20 years later...on rockefeller, hanna, johnson, baker, the stuff...bring them out and use to are terrific -mike baron

  6. I am fortunate to gain access to for free through Summit County Library. While there are archives of mostly smaller town newspapers, they are somewhat incomplete. I would love to have this PD archive for my media research. Not to mention the files of the old Press and Cleveland News.

  7. How do those of us not in Cuyahoga County Access it?

  8. I know how frustrating it is to want access to databases and to have it be unavailable.

    If you are in northeast Ohio, contact your local library and try to get them to subscribe. If you are outside northeast Ohio, I'd suggest contacting Newsbank, the vendor who offers the database, and ask them to offer individual subscriptions which, at the present, they do not offer.

  9. Thank you for this great resource. Since the holidays are close, this is a great resource for family/genealogy related projects.

    Also for those not able to view, a great excuse to encourage local connection(s) to sign up for the library services. As Christopher mentioned, twisting a local friend's arm to get their account info might do the trick!

    This gives me an excuse to update my own Library Account!

    Thanks again!

  10. When my mom was researching our house (built in 1861 and moved in 1881 to its present location) she used the Painesville Telegraph on microfiche. I guess around 1880 the newspaper archives caught fire. Something like that. BUMMER!!!

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