Using Chronicling America — Any vs. All vs. Phrase Searching

Hi, my name is Jenni Salamon and I work
on the National Digital Newspaper Program in Ohio at the Ohio Historical
Society. Today I’m going to show you an advanced search technique for the
Library of Congress’s Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers
website. This is a great resource for historical
research because newspapers covered a wide range of topics. I’m going to show
you how to find information on a topic related to transportation in this
screencast: specifically, the S.S. Sultana tragedy of 1865. The S.S. Sultana was a steamship that
exploded on the Mississippi River just north of Memphis, Tennessee on April
27, 1865. Some estimate that over seventeen
hundred people died, many of whom were Union soldiers on the
way back home after fighting in the Civil War. Let’s go to the newspapers and see what
we can learn about the S.S. Sultana. With over five million newspaper pages,
Chronicling America can be overwhelming to search so it is important to use search
strategies that will eliminate irrelevant results from the beginning. One way to do this is by
combining search terms. Let’s try it out. First, we’ll search Sultana using the basic
search option on the front page. We’re only using one word for this search
to show why it’s useful to combine multiple words into one search. As you can see
we’ve received over 20,000 results. I performed these searches ahead of time
and know that none of the results on the first page are accurate– although the word Sultana does appear on
these pages, none of the articles are about the steamship. What we did find was
information about female sultans and animals, among some other items. Let’s combine Sultana with another
search term– there are several terms you could choose such as reunion, boat, survivor or explosion, but let’s use disaster. And although you can combine your search
terms using the Basic Search right here, we’re gonna open up the Advanced Search
by clicking on the gray tab so we can determine the best way to combine
our words. As you can see, there quite a few
limits to choose from here, but we’re going to focus on the first three search boxes at the
bottom: with any of the words, with all of the words and with the phrase. Let’s clear out our previous search and
type Sultana disaster in the first search box: any of the words. This time we received over 300,000 results. This search finds pages that have the word Sultana, the word disaster and both words. On the first page only half
of our results are relevant. Let’s go back to the Advanced Search and move our search terms over to the all words search box. This time we received just under
1,400 results. This returns only pages on which both
words are present. 14 of our first 20 results are
relevant. Some results are not relevant because Sultana and disaster are in two
separate articles on the same page– one might be about a female sultan and
the other might be about another disaster. Let’s go back to the Advanced Search one
last time and search this as a phrase. This time we received 99
results. All of them on the first page are relevant. This search found pages on which Sultana disaster were side-by-side and in the exact order that we typed them, as you
can see here. The best search strategies were the all
word and the phrase search. We have fewer results to look through and more of them are relevant. If you’re doing your own searches on Chronicling America and are
receiving too many or inaccurate results, think about other terms that add to your search and how you can combine them so that you can more easily find the information
that you’re looking for. Do you want to learn more about the S.S. Sultana or other topics covered by America’s historic newspapers? Try your own searches–Chronicling America is freely available and more newspaper pages are
added on a regular basis. Visit the Ohio Digital Newspaper Portal to
view additional resources such as Subject Guides and the Using Chronicling
America Podcast Series. Thank you for viewing my screencast.

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