Clay Eltzroth’s great great grandfather was murdered in Louisana a hundred years ago.
That was pretty much all Clay, a former colleague of mine, knew. It was family lore.
Intrigued, I did a Google search and came up empty.
Next, I plugged “Eltzroth Louisiana murder” into the subscription database Newspapers.com. The site aggregates content from 22,000 U.S. papers back to the 1700s.
I found the details in the Weekly Town Talk, an Alexandria, Louisiana-based publication which described itself as `A Fearless and Wide Awake Democratic Newspaper.’
It turns out Jack Eltzroth was fatally shot by the awesomely-named Ransom Lewis, who at the time of publication was hiding out in a swamp.
Jack died at 3:15 pm on April 14, 1916 and was taken to the Kramer Undertaking Parlors where the Rev. W.J. Bolin of Emmanuel Baptist Church performed a ceremony. He left a wife and daughter, Judith, who was 8 years old.
We tend to think of search engines as the keys to unlocking everything on the Internet.
Clay’s story is a reminder that vast swaths of content remains inaccessible to modern search, either because it sits behind a paywall, is in a foreign language or not available digitally.
The surprise is how fast that is changing.
The digitization of old archives, along with advances in natural language processing, is surfacing long forgotten stories, providing extraordinary detail and occassionaly changing our understanding of the past.
Google search is a miracle, but it doesn’t work well in many areas.
We are early in the game. We will look back in a few years and marvel about how much we didn’t know.
Clay now knows from reading the article that his great great grandfather was “a very popular man.”
According to the paper, his “untimely and tragic death is sincerely regretted by all those that knew him.”
One detail the paper didn’t record: Jack Eltzroth’s wife was pregnant at the time of the murder, which prompted her to move to South Carolina.
“I wonder if all the amazing things my grandfather did would never have happened if his mother stayed in Louisiana,” Clay said.