Derek Donovan

Searching historical content old-school

Updated: 2013-10-06T23:56:43Z

By Derek Donovan

The Kansas City Star

This isn’t a matter of accuracy or fairness, but it’s certainly one of the most common questions I hear from readers. In fact, I fielded two similar questions today. One read:

“I am trying to access archived newspapers from the 1960s and ‘70s but only see (archives back) to 1991 on this site. What would be a way for me to access Kansas City Star papers from that time?”

The site she’s referring to is the archives search, linked from the top of KansasCity.com. (Access is included in your Star Plus digital membership, by the way.)

However, that historical content covers 1880 to 1922, 1940 to 1946, 1949 to 1950, added to the contemporary database of 1991 to the present. 1991 is when The Star began archiving in native digital format. The older dates have been scanned and converted to text. It’s an awfully accurate database, by the way. I’ve tried to stump it many times, and it’s found pretty much anything I’ve thrown at it.

So what about this reader’s request for the 1960s and ’70s? To find that content, you’re going to have to go to an old-school method: microfilm.

Public libraries either have or will be able to borrow reels of both The Kansas City Star and Times. Times content goes back to 1871, before it was owned by The Star.

Getting the film is easy. Finding stories is not, especially if you don’t have a fairly good idea of when something ran.

If you know when a person died and you’re looking for an obituary, that’s usually pretty simple. Request the film for the week or so after the date of death, and you’ll probably find it.

But to use a recent example, if you’re looking for a story about a car accident that happened some time in the late ‘50s, that’s going to be a heck of a research job. In fact, it might be insurmountable.

Microfilm research is very taxing on the eyes, as the film winds past you on a backlit screen. I’m one who gets motion sickness when I do too much of it, and that’s common.

No joke: I’d advise taking an over-the-counter motion sickness medication before you try to tackle a microfilm search if you’re prone to getting carsick or seasick.

Good luck and happy searching.

To reach Derek Donovan, call 816-234-4487 weekday mornings or send email to publiceditor@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/KCStarPublic.

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