05 May 2011

JTA: Online news archive launched

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency - known simply as JTA - has launched a free, searchable online digital archive with some 250,000 articles dating from 1923.

JTA is near and dear to Tracing the Tribe's heart as that organization, in 2006, contacted me and requested that I begin a genealogy blog. A year later, due to reorganization, Tracing the Tribe became independent.

In my talks with various JTA people over the years, I always stressed that its archives would be of immense value to genealogists and family history researchers. As plans were made to make the archive available, I was delighted.

On Tuesday night, May 3, the archive was launched at a celebration held at the Center for Jewish History, in New York.

What can you find in the archive? Here are some tidbits from just a simple search.
--The first article on the the Babi Yar massacre 
-- The founding of Israel.
-- Many articles on Jewish women through the decades.
-- The Holocaust.
-- A 1930 story on how upper class Persian Jews were becoming Bahai.
-- A 1932 story about a 1,000-year-old Polish synagogue formed by Portuguese Jews in the year 933 (Hebrew year 4693) in Wronke - on the river Warthe - in Posen.
-- A 1924 article about elections in a village near Mogilev, Belarus - spelled Mogileff in the article - named Slobodoa Davidovka, Mozyr district, and the agricultural colony Kormi, in Mogileff district.
(NOTE: There seem to be some search engine vagaries - JTA should have consulted with Steve Morse! - which the last article above showed. Searching for Mogilev did not show that election article - although there were many more modern ones. I used an old spelling, Mogileff, to see if there were other articles for the town and that spelling brought up three. A search for "Persia" showed that at some point in time, Hamadan was spelled Amadan and Isfahan was Ispahan (useful information for future searches). A phonetic parameter would be a useful addition to the search engine. For now, if you know other spellings of the towns you are looking for, try all of them.

However, you can search by keyword, by date/decades, and there are additional search tips. You can also save your searches by registering at the archive. It's free; click the Sign Up logo on the upper right of the archive home page. Do check out your ancestral towns, surnames and more!)

JTA was founded in 1917 towards the end of World War I by Jacob Landau to transmit vital information about what was happening in Jewish communities around the world. It was originally called the Jewish Correspondence Bureau and, was the first news agency that gathered and also disseminated news around the globe.

JTA correspondents, since that date, have reported what they could confirm at the time, although some facts in their articles were later corrected through research. Events covered by the agency would never have been documented.

The JTA Jewish News Archive is a powerful reference tool that offers a perspective on current events and modern Jewish history that is not available anywhere else. With free access to nearly a century of reporting about global events affecting world Jewry, the Archive will not only serve as a rich resource for both the casually curious as well as students and scholars of modern Jewish history, it will also transform the way the next generation of Jewish leaders and activists learn about their heritage.

Until now, there has been no authoritative site that provides a comprehensive chronicle of modern Jewish history, as seen through the eyes of journalists. From the aftermath of World War I, to the rise of Nazi Germany, through the Holocaust, the creation of the modern State of Israel and right up to today, JTA journalists have been reporting on stories and issues affecting Jews around the globe. The JTA Jewish News Archive holds over a quarter-million articles They provide a unique lens through which to view world events that no other news organization provides.
Read the bulletins that were sent out during the Holocaust and see the information that was available, contrary to conventional wisdom that said Americans didn't know about that tragedy while it was happening.

The digital archive effort was spearheaded by Brandeis University professor of American Jewish history Jonathan Sarna, who is also a JTA board member. He said that "The JTA Jewish News Archive has the potential to spark an interest in the past that will transform the future."

According to a JTA article, the nonprofit Digital Divide Data helped create the archive. The group serves Southeast Asian disadvantaged youth. Young Cambodians digitized the files.

The effort was also supported by the Gottesman Fund; The Righteous Persons Foundation; The Charles H. Revson Foundation; Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen; George S. Blumenthal; and the Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund.

See a video about the archive here.

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