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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Guest column: Researching history, old school

  • In an age of instant photos and information, some people have a hard time understanding that not everything can be found on the Internet or in seconds.
    On a recent rainy day, I received a research request for information about a man who committed suicide at the United States Penitentiary in 1998.I called the prison, but learned after so many years any records would have been sent to Washington, D.C.
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  • In an age of instant photos and information, some people have a hard time understanding that not everything can be found on the Internet or in seconds.
    On a recent rainy day, I received a research request for information about a man who committed suicide at the United States Penitentiary in 1998. I called the prison, but learned after so many years any records would have been sent to Washington, D.C.  
    With a name and death date in hand, I went to the Leavenworth Public Library’s Kansas Room and placed the reel of Leavenworth Times microfilm onto the microfilm machine spindle.
    Microfilm is a media that features shrunken images such as a newspaper on film. To view the images, a special machine is used to “read” the film. The machine has different knobs and buttons to enlarge, turn, and print the image. 
    Once, I had two teenage boys wander into the Kansas Room.
    “Whoa, what is that?” they asked.
    I explained it to them and they were fascinated when I spun the image with the twist of a knob.
    After scrolling through several editions of the Leavenworth Times I found a front page headline from Aug. 30, 1998 — “Man who killed family in 1989 found dead in cell.  Case led state to lower age at which juveniles can be tried as adults.”
    The article provided clues as to why the man who asked for my help had trouble finding any information on the Internet. When the murders were committed, the inmate had the surname Hurd.
    He was sentenced to the Topeka Youth Center until he reached the age of 21.  Within 14 months of his release, the man, his wife, and a friend went on a robbery spree in the Kansas City metro area. When convicted of three counts of armed robbery and one count of bank robbery, the man’s surname was Fallis.  
    Typing keywords into a search engine led me to two more articles that had been digitized from the Lawrence Journal-World and Fort Scott Tribune from July 1989. 
    Another article was available on WorldCat, a subscription database. Digitizing newspapers is an expensive and time-consuming process.
    However, once completed people across the globe have access to a vast wealth of primary sources. One such initiative is www.chroniclingamerica.loc.gov. A person can search for newspapers by state, time period, or keyword.
    A few years ago, I had a college student ask me how to find primary sources about the U.S.S. Maine for a research paper.  I told him about the website above and how to use the Kansas Room at the Leavenworth Public Library.
    Page 2 of 2 - He said the Leavenworth newspaper gave a day by day report of the U.S.S. Maine and he found good material for his paper.
    Google can give a person 1,000 answers, however librarians and historians can help a person find the right answer. National Library Week is April 13-19. Stop by your local library to see what is new and what programs are available.

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