I Finally Met Superman! Tom Tryniski of Fultonhistory.com .
I have been working as a project manager for a massive genealogy research project with many other professional genealogists, that is on a major push to break down some old brick walls. More about that later, but one of the recommendations that I made to the group was to interview a man who I have been corresponding with for several years, but had never met yet.
So yesterday we got to meet Tom Tryniski, the man I call Superman, who brings us that absolutely fabulous website, www.fultonhistory.com . Mr. Tryniski allowed us to grill him about his background, how he got started posting old newspapers online, what is going on now, and what some of his plans are.
Well I’m here to tell you that all is well with fultonhistory.com and it will be growing for many years to come. Tom told us that his background was in data processing and working with mainframe computer systems. When he retired he was presented with a box of old postcards of Fulton, New York and he scanned them and put them on the web. He’s really quite young to be retired, but I did not ask.
The postcards turned to old newspapers when he had a chance to scan and post the “Oswego Valley News” newspaper. He scanned these all by hand, page by page. This man is dedicated!
Once bitten by the bug he started to expand and sought out some newspapers that were on microfilm, and he had us sitting on the edge of our seats as he told the story of purchasing his first digital film scanner for a price that was a small fraction of the going rate. He bid on one at auction and then was confronted with sending close to $4,000 to the mid-west to a man he did not know, that said he was the owner of a bankruptcy dispersal company, and would only accept cash or a bank money order. Oh, and the man did not know if the machine worked or not.
It all turned out perfect. The machine arrived, was tested, worked perfectly and most of the millions of film images that you view on Tom’s free website are the product of that first machine. His earliest scanner was bi-tonal and produced sharp high quality images “if” the original was of high quality. There in is the rub. Newspapers are horrible quality at best. Bear in mind that these old newspapers were all typeset by hand and the metal type characters were used over and over until they were totally shot. What you get is broken type faces, poor and varying impressions, blurring and ink smudges, and that’s if you’re lucky!
Then you have the problem of the reproduction process. When scanned, if the operator was bored, sleepy, or eating a sandwich you get many Operator Head Space problems, I like to call it the Nut Behind the Wheel. Then you get registration problems where parts of the page are missing or a kilter, and the film processing quality varies from company to company and project to project.
Some of the quality problems can be alleviated with the use of a new type scanner which uses the Gray Scale tonal scanning process. So naturally Tom purchased the much more expensive type scanner and now scans everything in the much higher quality. Remember this is Tom’s hobby.
When he was asked about how to search by year ranges he explained that all of those instructions are in the FAQ_HELP_INDEX. He encourages the use of Boolean searching to narrow your search quest and says read the help instructions. One problem that I have heard discussed through the years is that some times you can’t read the date of the newspaper. This is usually caused by the scanning process if the page was slightly on an angle, but Tom said if you just go to the index page number before or after that one you usually can read it. Let me try to explain that a little better. Each of the images has a number at the top of the screen. To scroll to the page before or after, just take that number and go back to the original search box and all you have to do is put that number in the box, with plus or minus one number and you will go right to the image you want.
FultonHistory’s start was in Oswego County, however they now have newspapers from almost all parts of the state and they have varying ranges in years from about 1820 to date. He told us that his next release is going to be one of his largest yet, (over one million new pages,) and I just can’t wait because he announced that one of my favorite areas is complete and coming next.
The process is to first run the film through the digitizing scanners, then to run them all through the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software that does the important indexing. He then has to compress the images so they can be broadcast on the Internet and he is careful to go as small in pixel size as is practical so that the image can be magnified, still read and does not cause a bandwidth problem. His backup program is massive and he keeps off site storage of complete hard drives full of data. He also keeps all of the original highest quality TIF scans.
We asked about his computers, network and ISP. Well he does all of his own serving, with many multiple computers all networked and has a very high speed broadband connection. Tom also floored me when he said that one day his page view count exceeded 73,000! His busiest time is usually when he makes a new release. He said if the service seems to be running slow to you, then you should just wait a while and come back later because there are so many users on there at one time. Our fearless leader asked Tom how many employees he had. Very big grin. “You’re looking at them all.” When I asked how often his scanning process occurred. Another very big grin. “It’s running right now in automated mode, and usually runs 24/7.”
When I asked the obvious question about money, it was shrugged off. Tom encourages donations, some of which he shares with local historical societies or libraries somewhere that he feels really needs some help. This has certainly gained him some respect and the much needed trust from societies and organizations that have to protect their holdings.
Tom is looking in to some State or governmental assistance to help pay for this project that is expanding far beyond his original expectation, but he does not look for any commercial partnerships. He never wants this to turn into a subscription based service.
Let me tell you something, right here and right now. Tom Tryniski is, honest, sincere and a first rate citizen that ain’t in it for the bucks! If your organization has microfilm or information that you would like to share with Internet users, Tom is your man.
If any of you readers belong to a historical society or a library that would like to have some microfilm digitized there is no place that does better quality work at any lower cost. Talk to Tom and he will amaze you with a super low price. Oh and he will donate a hard drive filled with the original scanned images all indexed for the society or library to use.
All of my visions of meeting Superman were reinforced; all I missed was the cape and the phone booth.
Please leave lots and lots of “thank you” comments. I’m sure Tom will be reading this later. If you have any questions or other comments you can post them here also right under this message line. I’ll make sure Tom sees them.
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