Part of completing a “reasonably exhaustive search” for relevant records is knowing what sources exist. As such, we as genealogists should never rest on our knowledge of resources, but instead always be looking for “new” historic records. I recently ran across a website that provides an annotated bibliography of handwritten newspapers.
According to the Editor of the site, Roy Alden Atwood, Ph. D., who is the President and a Senior Fellow at New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho,
This site contains bibliographical data, images, resource links, and research notes about hundreds of rare and simply amazing manuscript publications produced under extraordinary conditions in remarkable settings. Most of the works contained here are from North America, particularly Canada and the United States. Most were published during the 19th century. However, the complete collection here includes works from around the globe–including Asia, Europe, and Australia–and they date from the ancient world (Rome’s Acta Diurna) to the present (see the stories linked here about a Japanese handwritten newspaper published March 2011 after that nation’s devastating earthquake and tsunami wiped out its printing capabilities and about an Urdu language paper in India still handwritten today).
Dr. Atwood compares these handwritten newspapers to today’s blogs–writings intended for a public audience that serve as “a testament to the universal journalistic impulse–the desire to share news and information with others–that refuses to be constrained by mere convention or technology.”
As many of us are aware, the Library of Congress has created a directory of newspapers published in the United States since its earliest days. However, according to Dr. Atwood, this directory suffers from a “print prejudice.” The Directory project simply did not include guidelines for inclusion or exclusion of handwritten newspapers. Therefore the Directory includes some and excludes others, based, not on a set criteria, but on a series of inconsistent and individual decisions, also leading to inadequate cataloguing of and search capabilities for these publications.
To rectify this lack of representation, Dr. Atwood has created The Handwritten Newspapers Project, to provide information on handwritten newspapers around the world.
Each entry contains Publication History, including place of publication, frequency, size and format, editor, and title changes and continuation; General Description and Notes; and Information Sources, including bibliographic resources and current archival locations of issues. These categories are comparable to the information provided by the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America directory.
Of particular interest, I note several handwritten newspapers published by both Union and Confederate prisoners in prison camps during the Civil War. The Libby Prison Chronicle, for example, was written by Union soldiers held at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia, in 1863. Regarding this paper, the site reports:
Several numbers of The Libby Prison Chronicle were written weekly in manuscript in 1863 at the Libby Prison and printed in 1889. One Libby prisoner, Capt. Frank Moran, of the 73rd New York Volunteers, recalled the Chronicle in a personal letter:
“The spirit of Yankee enterprise was well illustrated by the publication of a newspaper by the energetic chaplain of a New York regiment. It was entitled The Libby Prison Chronicle. True, there were no printing facilities at hand, but, undaunted by this difficulty, the editor obtained and distributed quantities of manuscript paper among the prisoners who were leaders in their several professions, so that there was soon organized an extensive corps of able correspondents, local reporters, poets, punsters, and witty paragraphers, that gave the chronicle a pronounced success. Pursuant to previous announcement, the “editor” on a stated day each week, would take up his position in the center of the upper east room, and, surrounded by an audience limited only by the available space, would read the articles contributed during the week.”
According to Starr, some prisoners regretted leaving Libby camp because,
“Classes are organized in Greek, Latin, French, German, Spanish, Mathematics, & Phonography, while there are plenty of surgeons and chaplains to encourage amateurs in Physiology and zealots in Dialectics. The ‘Libby Lyceum’ meets twice a week, with spirited debates, & there is a MS newspaper styled The Libby Chronicle.”
No copies of this newspaper remain extant, unfortunately, but some images and transcriptions were published in an 1889 book, as well as this transcription online. The content was often relatively light in this newspaper, quite telling of the spirits of these men in quite difficult circumstances.
On the other end of the spectrum is The Right Flanker, published by Confederate prisoners held at Fort-La-Fayette, a Union prison camp in 1863-1864. The site’s description of this newspaper reports,
The Right Flanker is the only known manuscript newspaper published by Confederate prisoners confined in the North during the Civil War. The paper was written in pen and ink, and after its staff was released, copies were taken to England and printed in book form (1865).
The introductory issue said the purpose of the paper was “to relieve the monotony of prison life, by calling into action the taste and faculties of those who are capable of contributing to its columns; instructing and amusing those who cannot, and to furnish to all who are to share the spice of excitement, which the risk of such a contraband undertaking affords, something of which it is hoped, reference can be pleasantly made by them in after years.” The editors then introduced themselves and their personal histories prior to imprisonment, but used no names, apparently to avoid punishment for the production of “contraband.”
The printed “transcript” of The Right Flanker runs 90 pages, but it unclear how faithful the printed version is to the handwritten originals.
The printed version depicts a paper devoted largely to an analysis of the war (based on New York newspaper reports), life in the prison camp, and the arrival of new prisoners. Humor or light features are infrequent.
Again, no known copies of the newspaper remain, but all of the existing issues were published in book form in England in 1865.
The site is well organized, allowing researchers to search for information on newspapers by state, time period, and subject matter. There are also both alphabetical and chronological lists of the included papers, for browsing.
Dr. Atwood has also included links to other resources for historic newspapers, including the Library of Congress directory; the U. S. Newspaper Program, with contact information for participating states; and national Newspaper Repositories, such as the American Antiquarian Society and the New York Public Library.
For further information,
- Michael Ray Smith, Ph.D., A Free Press in Freehand, book by (Grand Rapids, MI : Edenridge Press, 2011). The book also has an accompanying website with additional content.
- Dennis R. Laurie, “Amateur Newspapers,” American Antiquarian Society, as well as the online collection inventory.
SOURCE: Roy Alden Atwood, Ph.D., editor, The Handwritten Newspapers Project (http://handwrittennews.com/ : accessed 31 July 2011).
If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Handwritten newspapers: 19th century (and older) blogs?,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 1 Aug 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]).