L-R: Barbara Martin, Dawn Kelley, Connie Fales at Hackley Library looking at their notes on digitizing the Montague Observer.
By Fran Schattenberg and Robyn Goodman
One would think that the sheer boxed mass of 100 years of the Montague Observer newspaper (1889-1981) might have been beyond anyone’s scope, but the late Henry Roesler, former Mayor of Montague, took on the challenge.
Garry Olson, president of Lakeshore Document Services (that accomplished the digitization of the newspapers) recounts the initial discovery as “Henry told me that he found them in a garage about to be thrown out, so he took them home and put them in the Montague Museum.”
Just as the initial discovery was serendipity, the Lakeshore Document Services involvement in the Observer newspapers is in the same category. The Muskegon County Genealogical Society, whose primary sleuth, Dawn Kelley could give Sherlock Holmes a run for his money, contacted Garry Olson because the Society had heard about film of the Observer at the Montague Library. Kelley also mentioned there was a “rumor” about the originals being at the Montague Museum.
Olson continues that he “contacted Henry, and met him at the Museum. I could not believe my eyes! There they were, nearly 100 years of a newspaper that had been mostly gone and forgotten.”
Olson picked up the papers, took them to his Norton Shores facility, and worked out the procedure to digitize almost 100 years of the Montague Observer.
The Muskegon Genealogical Society agreed to oversee the project. The other part of the process was to obtain funding, thought to be between $9,000-$10,000. Original contributors were the Montague Museum ($5,000), Lakeshore Museum Center ($2,000), Muskegon Genealogical Society (pledged $2,000) and the White Lake Historical Society ($1,000).
After working with Olson on techniques and materials, Genealogical Society members Dawn Kelly, Barbara Martin and Connie Fales volunteered 270 working hours and one year to prepare the materials. The challenges were many. The bound copies, with thousands of pages, might have to be unbound without damaging the paper. There was always dust, fragile paper and decisions on copying essential text. According to Jane Schapka, Muskegon County Genealogical Society president, a tremendous amount of work had to be done on the papers before they were scanned.
“The volunteers worked with the fragile and disintegrating papers for 270 working hours,” Schapka said. “They had to use special archival tape to fix the papers before they could be digitized.”
Martin, who had had archival experience as the archivist for the Muskegon County Museum (now named the Lakeshore Museum), helped instruct Kelley and Fales in the initial stages so they could apply the techniques of how to unbind, use repair tape, use rubber gloves to remove dirt and apply distilled water to relax the newspaper, to name a few. With the worst books, they had to put the pages into plastic sleeves so they could be handled without disintegrating. What they found was that newspaper repair up to the 1930s could be more cleanly done due to the rag content in the paper.
Martin, Kelley, and Fales then had to coordinate these techniques in the process of evaluating the newspaper information and set up. Martin describes it as “when we did the repairing, we forfeited national news or ads to preserve local information, unless there was overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”
The microfilm years of 1945-1977 had been done by Central Michigan University. This was new film with which Lakeshore Document Services could then work.
Lakeshore Document Services has greatly expanded the research potential of digitization by incorporating Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on images to make them text searchable. Olson notes that “OCR technology is not 100 percent, but it is far better than anything we have thus far. You can search by name or terms, with alternate spellings to insure as much recognition as possible. Plus, 100 years of the paper can be searched in seconds.”
The four sponsoring organizations will be provided with copies of the entire project. The Montague Observer collection can be accessed at www.archiveol.com/montague/search. The link can also be found on the City of Montague’s website, www.cityofmontague.org and Muskegon County Genealogical Society’s website, genealogymuskegon.com.
While the Montague Observer focused on happenings in Montague, there are people from other areas also mentioned, Schapka said. When looking at the papers, you can find out about relatives who visited or weddings in the area. You can find out about the lives of residents in Montague and their friends.
“This never would have happened without the contributors,” Schapka said. “We are excited and very proud to preserve the history and stories of this area,” she added.