Attention Wisconsin and northern Illinois Genealogical and Historical Societies: Marquette University is Throwing Away Large Microfilm Collections!

The Wisconsin Genealogical Society’s Facebook page states: “Attention Wisconsin and northern Illinois genealogical and historical societies with your own libraries!! Marquette University is discarding large microfilm backruns of the Chicago Tribune (1849-2009), the New York Times (1857-2009), the Washington Post (1978-2009), and the Times of London (1785-2015). Rather than just dumping these films into a landfill, we’re trying to find a good home for them. They are FREE for the hauling.”

Details may be found at

My thanks to newsletter reader Mrs. Marcella Harteau for telling me about this story.


What kind of weight and size are we talking about? If the archives in Madison will accept them it doesn’t seem like it would be a big deal for volunteers to get them from Milwaukee to Madison.

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Dick, What about the website? We brought our town’s newspaper on microfilm to the owner, Tom Tryniski, and he scanned them and but them on line. He does this for free, although he accepts donations to help defray his costs.


    You would have to ask Tom Tryniski. Also, keep in mind this is many years of microfilms. I don’t know how many reels of microfilm that is but it must be hundreds of reels, possibly thousands. Just packing them up and shipping them will be a bit of an effort and then I don’t know if that includes the storage cabinets or not. (The library that is throwing away the microfilms probably has no future need for microfilm cabinets.) If the cabinets are included, we are talking hundreds of pounds of material, probably enough to fill an 18-wheeler truck. Simply packing them and shipping them across the country will be a significant expense for someone.


    I’m told there’s about 11K rolls. I have no doubt volunteers could be found to move them but there seems to be no interest in anyone receiving them. It’s sad because a copyrighted website is no replacement for most of these films that are public domain.


In the love for all things digital, it amazes me what has been discarded in both print, microfilm and other media. In my professional historical research, I have encountered libraries that threw in the dumpster entire runs of obscure but invaluable publications–information lost forever when, as in one case, the publication exists nowhere else. The publications mentioned above exist elsewhere but are not freely accessible online. Marquette University should not think of discarding them without finding them a new repository.


I’ve heard of new clerks coming into the county courthouse and clearing out “all those old ratty looking books.” Unfortunately some people have no regard for our historical documents.


You might contact The Church of Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City to see if they are interested in them.

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FamilySearch is always willing to take record contributions. They definitely could give these films a good home. Just call them (phone number or email is available on the website and make arrangements.


    GenealogyBank might be interested in these newspaper microfilms, or they might already have these issues and years.


It would be marvellous for private researchers like myself if these microfilms were made freely accessible on our home computers by FamilySearch, particularly the US ones for Brits, as well as the London Times for American historians. .


The New York Times and Washington Post are both available through online ProQuest subscriptions. I’ll bet that the Chicago Tribune and Times of London are also available somewhere online for a fee.

These papers are copyrighted materials, and it might not be legal to simply scan them online at a free site.


In a perfect world, the internet never goes down, budgets for internet subscriptions are lavish and are never cut, pages are never missed in digitization, and there’s never a problem finding and retrieving a perfect scan of every frame.

Over the past few years, construction and road repair have at least 3 times cut major cables, resulting in multi-day internet outages. We cranked film (though some grumbled) and research rolled on.

When perfection arrives, I’ll perch in my white robe on the edge of my soft pink cloud, with my harp under one elbow and my halo pushed back, and click through screen after perfect screen.

Until then, knowing there’s backup somewhere is a reassuring thought.


    ProQuest is copyrighted. The Chicago Tribune site is copyrighted. I’ve not looked into the London Times however if there are images available on line odds are they are copyrighted. Most of these microfilms are public domain. The web site(s) may have the same data but it is not a replacement for these films. It’s doesn’t mater though since the libraries can fall back on the website excuse there is no interest in saving the films.


Hi Dick,

This post was just brought to my attention today. As the person who put the original post up on the WSGS Facebook page, I feel the need to respond.

I wish you wouldn’t say we’re “throwing away” the microfilm. That’s exactly what I’m trying to keep from happening! The reality of the situation at Marquette is that the microfilm cabinets are full, we have this content digitally online, and there’s only so much budget money to spend, so these particular papers in this particular format are being weeded to make room for other microfilm that we don’t have access to online. (So, yes, we’re keeping the cabinets.) We have a beautiful Archives (see and are not in the habit of throwing away historical documents. As a matter of fact, our Archives is the repository for the J.R.R. Tolkien Collection, including his original manuscripts.

For those of you that commented that you wished this content was freely available online, you should check with your local libraries. The content isn’t free to the libraries, but if you have a library card, it may be free for you to use, sometimes even online at home in your bunny slippers. In Wisconsin, we have the BadgerLink project ( which provides access to databases, newspapers, and even some specialized genealogical databases, and all you have to do is log in with your local library card to access it all from home! (Keep this sort of thing in mind the next time your governor wants to cut library funding–just sayin’. 😉

As a genealogist for 35+ years myself, I LOVE microfilm, but it is a dying format, much like Betamax (remember those?) and VHS tapes have been replaced by Netflix and Hulu. I know that many small genealogical and historical societies can’t afford to license online access, nor could they have afforded to purchase as complete runs of microfilm as we’re discarding, but a lot of them have microfilm readers, which is why I went directly to this community to try to find homes for these papers. As you rightly pointed out, almost 11,000 reels of microfilm is HEAVY and takes a lot of time to move and pack up, and would be extremely expensive to ship, which is why I targeted my message at societies that are close enough to be able to drive here to pick the films up. I’m very happy to say that I have found a home for the Chicago Tribune with a small local historical society near Chicago! Now, if anyone is interested in the New York Times, Washington Post, and London Times (all the way back to 1785!), please let me know. My contact information is in the original Facebook post on the WSGS page. Ideally, I’d like to give these to a non-profit.



The Chicago Tribune archives (1857-1991) is online and freely available:
The New York Times archive (1851-present) is online and freely available for non-copyrighted news (pre-1923):
The Washington Post archive (1877-1995) is online and available through ProQuest:


    Everyone of these sources is copyrighted. That limits the usefulness and the ability to share. The NY Times has an absurd entry in their terms of service whereby if you open an account with them you are obligated to report someone else’s copyright violation “as soon as you become aware of it”.


    Guess what, Ken – the microfilm is copyrighted, too (post-1923). It’s the *work* that is copyrighted, not the medium. Pre-1923 online newspaper images may be licensed, which is different from copyright. Suggest you do a little research on the matter.


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