Tombstone Mystery Solved and Family Keepsake Revived

Why digitize newspapers? I work at the Houston County Public Library and recall two instances specifically that impressed upon me the importance and usefulness of digitization.

Through grants and donations from Flint Energies and the estate of Alice L. Gilbert, the Houston County Public Library System partnered with the Digital Library of Georgia (DLG) to digitize our local newspaper, the Houston Home Journal.

Not long ago, we had received notice from the DLG that they had successfully completed the project and that it was accessible through the Georgia Historic Newspapers site located in GALILEO. The information was no sooner relayed to me than I got to take my first spin on the newly digitized information. A gentleman walked in and wanted the newspaper information on “the unknown man who was buried in Perry in his underwear.” Yes, that’s correct. A man was buried in his underwear in Perry, Georgia; an article was written about it, and this patron expected me to find it.

Man buried in his underwear: Tombstone mystery solved, Houston Home Journal. (Perry, Houston County, Ga.) 1924-1994, April 20, 1972, page 1-B.
Houston Home Journal. (Perry, Houston County, Ga.) 1924-1994, April 20, 1972, page 1-B.

I was stymied. Then I remembered that our newly digitized newspaper was word indexed. I logged in, typed in the common, everyday keywords of “man”, “buried”, and “underwear”…and magic happened! It pulled right up. Hallelujah, I was saved! I printed the article, handed it to the gentleman, and looked smug. The patron went home impressed with how easy the digitized newspaper was to search and navigate–and also knowing that it was just a keystroke away. I was able with little time and effort to be an awesome librarian.

The second occurrence did not even take place in the library. I was at a local function wearing my “library hat” and was engaged in the usual “What do you do?” conversation at my table. A lady said she was thankful we had made the old newspaper articles available online. She told me she had had a very athletic and talented brother that had been making a name for himself in school sports. Over the years, their mother had made a scrapbook of all the newspaper clippings with his name mentioned or interviews given. Unfortunately, his was an untimely death. In the chaos that followed, the scrapbook was lost.

When our local newspaper was digitized and made available, this lady searched her brother’s name, and printed out and put together a new scrapbook containing all the news clippings about her brother. She then gave it to her mother. Because we had digitized our newspapers, she was able to replace what was lost.

These are just two instances, both very different in their use, that the digitization of the Houston Home Journal by the Digital Library of Georgia, was indispensable. Though there are more, these examples are the most memorable. I would encourage other libraries, if they are considering digitizing, to go ahead. It is financially daunting for sure, but when looking at serving the community or long-term benefits, it makes so much sense. Good luck!

Judith Malone, Perry Branch Manager of the Houston County Public Library.

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One Reply to “Tombstone Mystery Solved and Family Keepsake Revived”

  1. I am thrilled to learn that the Houston Home Journal is being digitized. I am just beginning to search Houston County for information on my Gilbert ancestors. I was delighted to see that the estate of Alice L. Gilbert had helped finance the effort. I now wonder if she might be a distant cousin. I have hopes of getting to your library there one day.

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