Shreds of History
Local newspapers have been invaluable in some of our research projects; reporters who were on the scene have provided us with clues about people, places, and events that are not available in any other source. Sadly, preserving newsprint is a major challenge. We have been reviewing our collection of local newspapers at Jenks Library with the hope of preserving them and making them more accessible.
While many of our newspapers are in excellent condition for their age, some of our papers are tattered. In fact, a few are so incomplete that one’s first impression, aside from recognizing that the papers are old, is that they cannot be of much use. Objectively, that may be true. Looking more carefully, however, we were awed to discover that one of our newspaper fragments discussed the state convention held in early 1788 to decide whether Massachusetts would ratify the Federal Constitution.
To find out more about our paper, we explored online catalogues of historical newspapers. We were fortunate that a commercial site offered access to digitized issues of the Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser. The issue dated January 17, 1788 exactly matched the remains of our newspaper and filled in its contents. A section missing from our copy reported that Acton had sent Asa Parlin to participate in the Convention.
Obviously, the digitized newspaper was much more useful for research purposes than our remnant. However, despite its condition, there is something about looking at physical evidence of such an important piece of history that stirs the imagination. It creates a link to an earlier time, helping us to envision the people who once picked up that very sheet of paper to learn how the formation of their new country was progressing. Even in our digital age, there is a place for things of the past.
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