Eighty years ago this week, my father and his brother hosted a “hamburger and frankfurter roast” on the lawn of their family’s house in Elberon, New Jersey.
I know this because it showed up in a search of newspapers.com, an electronic archive of more than 21,000 papers that extends back to the 1700s.
The site, popular with genealogy enthusiasts, opens an extraordinary window on the past largely because of the breadth and depth of local newspaper coverage.
I found articles about my dad’s swimming competitions in high school and a piece about his cousin Virginia’s sixth birthday party where a white and pink cake was served “in the center of the table.”
Large sections of The Asbury Park Press focused on the social life of the community, mentioning for example when my grandparents would visit from Newark, about an hour away.
One classic headline: “New Englanders Visit” described how my great-grandfather’s brother drove down from Connecticut.
More dramatically, I discovered an article in which my father was quoted about surviving the deadliest train wreck of the era, the derailment of a Pennsylvania Railroad train that killed 85 on Feb. 6, 1951.
I found the obituary of my great-great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War as part of Company G, 29th regiment of New Jersey. And another about the year I batted .500 while in Little League.
There are so many details I have forgotten or never knew: The names of all the kids on my baseball teams; the minister who married my parents; my uncle serving three years in the Pacific during WWII.
We tend to think of the world of information as being at our fingertips via Google, but a stroll through newspapers.com reminds me that we are still early in the game.
There are so many databases that are not connected or behind paywalls. Also, search technology remains primitive for archival documents.
The future promises more access to a deeper reservoir of news and information.
The disappearance of many local newspapers may also signal a new era where we no longer chronicle memorable quotidian events — such as the bridge tournament my father won during the week of August 27th, 1949.