Thursday, 11 July 2013

Digitised Barnsley Chronicle coming soon to Barnsley Archives (and the tragic deaths of Edward Hayes aged three and Jeremiah Moderate aged sixteen)

The big question when I enter the Archives at the moment is, "Has the Barnsley Chronicle arrived yet?"  Since the re-opening as part of Experience Barnsley a couple of weeks ago we have been eagerly awaiting the chance to view the full collection of the Barnsley Chronicle newspaper in its new format.

Word has been going around the local and family history communities of Barnsley and the message is beginning to get back to me via unexpected routes ... "Did you know ...?", well yes I did and do and I can't wait!! 

Since I moved to Barnsley about ten years ago and started researching the OH's family history and developing a knowledge of Barnsley history in general (the Aspects of Barnsley series of books are really good for getting to know the place) I have used the Barnsley Chronicle on microfilm to search for more detail on family news and events.

Here's a particularly harrowing example from 1924:
Newspaper Cutting: Text below
Barnsley Chronicle 9 August 1924 (from Barnsley Archives)

"Swallowed a Halfpenny

Singular Death of a Monk Bretton Child
At the Barnsley West Riding Police Court on Tuesday morning Mr C J Haworth (District Coroner), held an inquiry into the death of Edward Hayes (3), son of the late James Hayes and Mrs Benson of 12, Chapel Street, Monk Bretton, who died on Saturday after swallowing a halfpenny.
Thomas Edward Benson, step-father of deceased said that when he went home on Saturday afternoon he found the child on a couch.  Artificial respiration was being applied, but the child died shortly afterwards.

Ernest Schofield, miner, 10 Chapel Street, Monk Bretton, said that at about 3 o'clock on Saturday afternoon he saw deceased in the street in the arms of a man named Noah Clarke.  His face was blue and he appeared to be choking.  Witness say a halfpenny come from the child's mouth and fall on the ground.

Noah Clarke, 14 Chapel Street, Monk Bretton, said he saw the child choking in the street and picked him up.  He hit him on the back and according to the previous witness it was then that the halfpenny dropped out of the child's mouth.

Dr E Walsh of Cudworth said when he arrived the child was dead.  He made a post mortem examination and found no trace of injury or disease.  In his opinion, taking into account the evidence he had heard, the cause of death was suffocation.

Benson, re-called, said he gave the child a penny on Saturday and he brought home "spice", having a halfpenny change.

The Coroner, recording a verdict that "the child died through misadventure from suffocation by swallowing a halfpenny whilst at play", remarked that what Clarke did was the best thing possible.  One would have thought after this that the child would have come round, but unfortunately it did not do so."

Notice how the cutting is crossed through by vertical lines - these are scratches on the microfilm from running it through the readers hundreds of times.  The thicker ones almost obscure some of the words.  I hope that the new digitised version will be a much clearer copy, we have been told that it will be searchable, however this does depend of the capability of the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) used and the condition of the images that are scanned by the software.

Here's an example, from the newspapers on Find My Past (and the British Newspaper Archive) of what results you get from a scan of a poor image:

of Mr. Jeremiah Moderate, OI bort tim e d* * tfS 1< and has only been employed; a ve ved & Bridge, was as soon as P O9 ? bad * mary, where it was found tna V. bc dy. ™ injured in the lower part oi recovery is entertained.
Now admittedly the name of my relative, Jeremiah Moderate, is clear - I wouldn't have found the reference if it hadn't have been - however the rest of the item is completely mangled.  It should read something like this ...

"of Mr. Jeremiah Moderate, of Abbey Town, Carlisle, and has only been employed a short time at Apperley Bridge, was as soon as possible conveyed to Leeds Infirmary, where it was found that he had been very seriously injured in the lower part of the body. No hope of his recovery is entertained."
When we look at the actual image we can see why the poor OCR may have occurred - the page was not laid flat and the letters to the right are warped out of shape.  

Newspaper Cutting: Shocking Accident to a Carlisle Youth near Leeds
Manchester Evening News 18 July 1885 (from Find My Past)
Similar problems with the OCR occur if the page is damaged or creased, or if the ink has been smudged.  And old style fonts ... ah well, although I would be the first to admit that the ability of OCR to recognise printed words has come on in leaps and bounds since I first used it over fifteen years ago, the programs still have trouble with excessive serifs on fonts - that's the little squiggly bits at the top and bottom of letters - plus in the really old newspapers a letter 's' looks like a letter 'f' - and there's not a lot you can do about that!
Newspaper Cutting, very old fashioned font - text below
Newcastle Courant 30 May 1778 (from British Newspaper Archive)

"Last week, at Sunderland, Mr John Elstob, a Landwaiter in the Customs there, to Miss Hen. Brown, daughter of Mr Nicholas Brown of the Customhouse in that port; a young lady possessed of many valuable accomplishments, with a handsome fortune."

becomes in the search text,
"SundeVknd, Mr JohnElftob, ?? in the Cuftoms then to Mifs Hen. Brown, daughter of Mr Nicholas Brown of the Ctiftomhoufe tn dittfort; a young Lady ?? of many valuable ?? with a handfome ..."
So let's cross our fingers that the new digitisation of the Barnsley Chronicle will avoid all these pitfalls and people will be turning up in droves to discover their ancestors' goings on!  Don't forget to make a booking - it could get very busy! 

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