The Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project is making it easier for genealogists and historians to do their research. Begun in 2004 and completed last year, the digital archive stores and makes accessible every edition of four different local Jewish publications dating from 1895 to 2010.
Anyone with an Internet connection can access the archive, which contains 8,700 issues and more than 230,000 images from the Jewish Criterion (1895-1962), the American Jewish Outlook (1934-1962), the Jewish Chronicle (1962-present), and the Y-JCC series (1926-1975).
The Jewish newspaper archive is a project of the Carnegie Mellon University Libraries. “Carnegie Mellon has been a leader in digitization of library and archival materials,” said Gabrielle Michalek, head of the libraries’ archives and digital library initiatives. “We were on the vanguard of all of this, building the first and largest digital archives, beginning back in 1995 with the Senator H. John Heinz Archives.”
Carnegie Mellon tracked down all the back issues of the Criterion in Pittsburgh’s Rodef Shalom Congregation’s archive, those of the Outlook and Y-JCC at the Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center, and those of the Chronicle at that paper’s offices.
The Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project was initiated by Ann Molloy, librarian at Rodef Shalom Congregation. A member of the local philanthropic Posner family, Molloy was able to garner support for the project, which was ultimately funded by the Posner family and the Pittsburgh Jewish community, and supported in kind by the Carnegie Mellon University Libraries. The University Libraries also houses the Posner Memorial Collection of 622 titles, including landmark titles of the history of western science, beautifully produced books on decorative arts, and fine sets of literature.
According to Michalek, the Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project is the most frequently used online collection at Carnegie Mellon. In the last eight months, the archive received 30,000 hits, with 6,000 of them coming in just the last week.
“People are accessing the archive online from all over the world,” Michalek noted. It seems that the main users are historians, and especially genealogists. Many are searching for newspaper issues from the 1920s and 1930s. “People who are now in the 60s and 70s are trying to find information about their ancestors.”
Fortunately, for these genealogists, the Jewish Criterion provides a treasure trove of sought-after details. The paper documented life cycle events and printed donation announcements, as well as announcements about illnesses and injuries of community members.
Michalek suggests that people who don’t think they have Pittsburgh family ties might still want to check out the archive. “If you dig deep enough, most families who have immigrated to this country turn out to have some kind of connection to this city.”