I never took a typing class. My working career was spent in laboratories, first at the bench doing various tests and then when computers became more available to the everyday person, I discovered I could quickly pick up their operation and saw some of the possibilities. I began finding ways to use computers in laboratories and when Microsoft Excel was introduced, it became one of my primary programs. By the time I decided to retire, I was using lookups within multiple files, indirect addressing and complex graphics. I hesitate boring you with all this information, but it might help understand the newspaper index by knowing a bit of my background.
I have my own microfilm reader, with no printer, in my home office. I can read it at all hours of the day, usually with my mug of ice water and listening to the radio. On the same table as the microfilm reader is a laptop computer, equipped with Excel. I wrote a worksheet that simply copies information from the previous row. That way I do not enter publication information each time, but only enter changes when the column, page, date, etc changes.
The worksheet is also set up for “automatic
fill,” which means that if I entered a long name and later start to write
the name again, the computer will automatically finish it. That helps me, by reducing typing, but
it is also “dangerous” because of possible errors. I try to be diligent, but there is a
possibility of this feature causing typographical errors. For example, if the name
Another source of errors is on the microfilm. There may be dirt, scratches or lack of contrast just where it is difficult to read the letter as “o” or “e” or perhaps “l” or “i”. Also it is important to remember that spelling as we know it (or at least as I knew it when I went to school) was really not well established before the 1900’s. They did not seem to be concerned that Maud Olson was Maude Olsen later in the same article. While I usually tried to keep the names as they were in the paper, I would also try to keep it more consistent by not entering the next spelling. I often correct what I believe is an obvious error, such as “Smiht” would be entered as “Smith.” But I also appreciate that what is “obvious” to me might not be obvious to someone looking for an unusual name. Please be aware that between my corrections and the editor’s type set-up, the name may be different from what someone considers the “correct” spelling today.
“Mr. and Mrs. John Smith left for
My concern is to make an index covering as much of a time interval as possible and including as many residents’ names as are published, using whatever skills I have, and unfortunately, typing is not one of them. I hope this rambling will help in understanding the sources and types of errors that may be encountered and I will happily correct anything for future versions if they are brought to my attention.
Not only am I not a printer, but I have never done any printing on a real press. However, I have seen movies and clips of the process, which can be very informative and highly recommended to anyone trying to research early newspapers. Printer ink was rolled by hand on the plates containing the type characters. Watching this, knowing how important it must be to cover the plates with a very specific amount of ink, pressure applied and imagining how well the individual type pieces were cleaned (or not cleaned!) between uses makes it more of a wonder there was not a greater incidence of a similarity between “e” and “o” or even “a” and “c.” We are spoiled with computerized machines that control the shape of letters and find it difficult to imagine the confusion among H, E, F, B, S All letters can and often are indicated by a simple “blob of ink” and the only way to discern the letter is by context of the word, which may or may not be what the reader may “see.” Add to this the lack of concern in the 19th century for a strict spelling code and it is obvious there is much room for errors.