The Pittsburgh Catholic, the oldest Catholic newspaper in the country, now has more than 150 years’ worth of archived issues available online to the public, thanks to Duquesne University’s Gumberg library.
The library has stored Pittsburgh Catholic archives on microfilm for more than 40 years, but contacted the newspaper when the film showed signs of deterioration in 2008. Pittsburgh Catholic Editor Bill Cone said Gumberg library archivists asked permission to put the issues online.
“That was really a big blessing,” Cone said, “because we didn’t seek them out at all. They approached us and said that they were interested in doing this.”
Issues published between 1844 and 2001 are now available through a web portal and searchable by year and keywords. Cone says this will be useful for Catholics who want to learn more about the heritage of their faith in Pittsburgh and for historians and genealogists.
“We’re finding out through talks with Gumberg that people are using this to look up obituaries about their family or to learn about friends they might have lost track of,” Cone said.
Gumberg Library archivist Tom White said you do not have to be Catholic to find the archives interesting.
“The paper documents all kinds of social and political history, the lives of immigrants. It’s useful for genealogists, certainly for academics looking at changing cultural phenomena,” White said.
White says the transformation took eight years due to the challenge of reading the old microfilm and using “optical character recognition” software to make the documents searchable. The software scans an image for words and characters, but White said archaic fonts made this difficult on the oldest issues.
The project was funded by the library, grants and donations.