I did not know before today that Google aggregated newspapers. I knew they had current-day news, but I didn’t know they had older papers. I was doing a search on the building where my father used to work, which was/is at the north end of the famous Packard Plant complex. One of the links in the search led to the Toledo Blade, the daily paper of that northwestern Ohio metropolis. It was a help-wanted ad for my dad’s employer, published in the 1960s.
That alone was surprising. I mean, I’m used to my employer’s databases of periodicals, and those generally go no further back than 1980. I didn’t expect to just run into a trove of older papers just like that, free gratis and no charge*.
I got curious. I fairly quickly found an obit for my mother’s father, who passed away unexpectedly in Toledo in 1948, aged 43. It’s a brief obit, befitting a man of little note who wasn’t really from there, suffering a not-unusual death. But I wanted it, anyway, for my genealogical research. I expected I was going to have to make a road trip to Toledo at some point and throw myself on the mercy of a hard-working librarian, who would show me to the microfilm room. There I would assuredly suffer seasickness because of my attempts to read while the film was moving. (I know this from a college project involving the 1910 Census. Ugh.) But no road trip to Toledo, now.
Turns out the Google News archive is spottier than I’d like. No Detroit newspapers are included, nor Port Huron (father’s family had a lot to do with St. Clair County), or Duluth, Minnesota or Superior, Wisconsin (mom’s family was from there). So I will probably yet have some quality time with a microfilm reader.
I imagine the whole Google News operation is tangled logistically with the same issues that they had with Google Books (copyright and licensing vs. public domain yadda yadda). In fact, you can’t directly search the Google News archives, though you can limit a general news search by date. I have to admit that my first thought was actually how much of a threat this could be to my employer’s periodical products, which we charge money for while Google News is free. It was pretty cool to find that obit, though.
* A phrase I picked up from Damon Runyon.