For everyone interested in Sonoma County history and genealogy, it’s a frabjous day: The historic Santa Rosa and Petaluma newspapers are now online and searchable. This includes the Press Democrat (up to 1916), the Sonoma Democrat, The Argus-Courier and many Argus’ (Argussess?) before that paper emerged. Together with the Healdsburg archive that’s been available for awhile we finally have a pretty good picture of local doings all over the county.
To make it easy for you (and myself!) to search the Santa Rosa and Healdsburg archives I’ve created an Internet resources web page where queries can be entered for each paper. There are also links to the Petaluma papers – available through newspapers.com subscription – as well as other county journals. The web page additionally includes sections with every online Sonoma county history, local maps, searchable books on state history, Luther Burbank, the 1906 earthquake and more.
The house web site was designed ‘way back in 2007 and integrates four blogs on house restoration, architecture, gardening and local history plus a few pages with precise layouts. It all looks fine on a desktop computer but today most people are using smartphones or tablets, and not being 100 percent “mobile friendly” is the kiss of death when it comes to the search engines. Non m.f. pages may rank lower in the display of search results or not be shown at all, which means the material effectively has disappeared from the Internet. That Google et. al. are putting thumbs on the scale to favor pages deemed to have a high quality “user experience” over high quality of content should concern you.
There are also technical issues with the “I See by the Papers…” blog, which started with modest ambitions to discuss newspaper items about the Oates and Comstock families. Now it has almost 600 articles containing a million words. The Blogger service (owned by Google) was state-of-the-art a decade ago but has been plagued with problems; as just one example, I can’t correct a typo in an older item without being prepared for the Blogger editor to mess up parts of my page layout by “fixing” it without warning or asking permission. I have spent untold hours in the archives undoing these and other monkey-wrench changes made by Blogger.
Rather than redesign all the sections of the house web site and continuing to workaround Blogger’s bugs and quirks, the easiest solution was to port “I See by the Papers…” to a more stable platform that was mobile-friendly from the start – hence SantaRosaHistory.com. I will continue to mirror the blog at both sites, with the difference that I’m no longer going to make major repairs to the original site the next time Blogger blows up.
Thanks to the WordPress platform, SantaRosaHistory.com is not only more stable but easier to customize; I was able to add those newspaper search fields with ease and am contemplating several improvements that could make it easier to find stuff. And it’s all being done in a context that Google considers m.f. and worthy of being shown on a tiny screen.
In the meantime, rip into those newspaper archives; today I found answers to six impossible questions before breakfast, to borrow from Lewis Carroll. If you’re looking for nothing in particular, call up a paper from a century ago today or 150 years ago. Browse; prowl our past. A couple of pages after the breakfast quote in “Through the Looking-glass,” Alice walks into a shop and is asked if she knew what she wanted there. “I don’t quite know yet,” Alice said very gently. “I should like to look all around me, if I might.”
Finally, after years of determined work trying to undermine social media by personally ignoring it, I have finally created an “OldSantaRosa” account on Facebook and Twitter. I shall never be productive again.