Newspaper index project advances by two volumes

November 11, 1998

Newspaper indexBy KERRY LYNN FRALEY / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

A project to index the contents of old Hagerstown newspapers was under way when Patricia N. Holland was researching the history of her church for the Sharpsburg Heritage Festival in 1995.

But the project had started with newspapers dating back to 1790, and the painstaking task hadn't yet reached 1832, when Christ Reformed Church in Sharpsburg was built, said Holland, who has a keen interest in the indexing project.

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"I feel it has great significance for the family researcher as well as someone looking for historical details about a community like ours," she said.


Holland was among several dozen people who attended a reception Tuesday at Washington County Free Library, where the two newest indexes, covering 1835 through 1844, were showcased. The Bowman Board was honored for funding the project, which began in 1981.

The reception, held in the library's Western Maryland Room, was co-sponsored by The Herald-Mail Co. and the library's board of trustees.

Bowman Board members were presented with certificates of recognition and copies of "A Newspaper History of Life in Washington County 1920-1935."

Hardbound copies of "An Index to Hagerstown Newspapers 1835-1839" and "An Index to Hagerstown Newspapers 1840-1844" - both subtitled "The Canal Years" - were presented to the Washington County Historical Society.

Each covering a five-year period, the books are the ninth and 10th volumes in a series that eventually will cover 1790 through 1890, said Marsha L. Fuller, who in February took over indexing the historical weekly and semi-weekly newspapers.

The meat of each book is an index of local and regional articles and advertisements that appeared in Hagerstown newspapers between those dates, and which can be searched alphabetically by family name or subject matter.

Listings include the publication, date the item appeared, page and column and a brief description of the item.

For example, according to a listing under "accidents" in the volume covering 1835 through 1839, you can find an item about a Frederick, Md., man who was gored to death by a steer in The Hagerstown Mail - forerunner of The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail - on Aug. 26, 1836, on page 3, column c.

The book also includes a historical sketch of Hagerstown, maps from the time and a guide to using the index.

The index is "light-years ahead" of the method genealogists have had to use to research old newspaper articles and ads, said Fuller, a professional genealogist who is employed part time on the indexing project through the library.

"Oh, my word, you would spend days and days and days going through microfilm and you still might not find anything," she said.

A lot of people use the indexes available so far, Fuller said.

"People come here from all over the country to research their ancestors," she said.

The indexes are a wonderful resource for people doing all kinds of research, said Elizabeth Graff, curator for the historical society.

For example, someone trying to figure out when a family moved to Illinois could look for moving sale ads featuring that family name, Graff said.

Someone trying to figure out what to plant in a garden might check out old seed ads, she said.

Or someone wanting to make a period costume could use newspaper items to figure out what type of material should be used, Graff said.

While you still have to turn to microfilm or the original newspaper to read the actual item, the index tells you that the item is there and where it is, she said.

The project wouldn't have been possible without Hagerstown resident Mary Bester Kneisley Bowman, who bequeathed funding for the project when she died in 1974, and her husband, Dr. Harry Bowman, who died in 1972, Fuller said.

The Bowmans shared a passion for Washington County history, she said.

Indexing the newspapers takes a long time because of the tedious nature of the work, Fuller said.

"And we want to make sure we don't miss anything," she said.

The hope is to have all the index information available on a Web site, Fuller said.

A "demo" of the site, including information about the project, is already accessible on the Internet at

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