By Monica Shore
“I’ve only just tried a few short searches, but this is wonderful.” This was the response from Dan Kaiser when he first received word that early Grinnell area newspapers are now online. Kaiser is a local history enthusiast and author of the Grinnell Stories blog, a website where he shares in-depth stories related to the history of Grinnell. He has spent a lot of time looking at microfilm of newspapers at Drake Community Library, a time consuming task that can only happened during open library hours. Now his research can continue any time of day and from any location by going to https://grinnell.lib.ia.us/newspaper
Digitization of local newspapers has been a long time goal of Marilyn Kennett, the long-time library director who retired on Dec. 6. With funding from Friends of the Library, she was able to move forward with digitization for papers that are outside of the timeline for copyright restriction. The dates range from 1871 through 1925 and cover five publications. The majority of what is available is from the Grinnell Herald (1871 – 1925) and the Grinnell Register (1911 – 1925), two papers that merged in 1936 to form the Grinnell Herald-Register. The three other papers included where only published briefly in the 1870s. They are the Poweshiek County Herald, the Malcom Bulletin and the Montezuma Standard.
Digitization was done by Advantage Archives, a Cedar Rapids company that has worked with many libraries around the state on similar projects. Whenever possible, microfilm owned by the State Historical Society of Iowa was used as it is generally in prime condition. At the start of the project it was discovered that the library owned several rolls of film that the State Historical Society did not own. Sixteen rolls of microfilm from the library, covering the years 1871 – 1897, were sent to Advantage for digitization.
The ability to do keyword searches online is already proving fruitful for Kaiser. He has been able to fill gaps in his research for several of his stories. One of the more fun things to come from the new research tool was a story from 1911. While looking for new discoveries related to the Renfrow family, Kaiser found an article from May 29, 1911 with the headline, “Finds a Live Alligator: Novel Experience for Mrs. L.A. Renfrow a few days ago.” The sixteen-inch alligator had been brought from Florida by a neighbor. It escaped its tank and somehow found its way to the Renfrow cellar a block away, where it was struck on the head with a hoe by a young man summoned to help Mrs. Renfrow. While it may not add depth to his research on the family, it certainly is a fun story.
“I can hardly say how much I appreciate this development, one of which I shall make use of most every day and one which future researches and genealogists will appreciate as well,” said Kaiser.
Monica Shore is the Drake Community Library Systems Administrator.