Friday, May 8, 2009

L. M. Kokernot the elder

I had another of those creepy moments a couple days ago--the one where I come across a nugget of information that I know no one else knows. I'm sure Einstein felt the same way when he learned that E equals mc squared. The only difference is that in my case no one cares. But that doesn't change the feeling. Anyway, I learned when, where, and how David Kokernot's father died.

Before now, all we knew was what David Kokernot told his grandson Walter, that his father, "L. M." had drowned in Lake Pontchartrain around 1825. Kent Gardien combined that with the knowledge that he was a dry goods retailer and always lived around water (Amsterdam, New Orleans) to speculate that the elder LM drowned while peddling by boat. It turns out he was actually bathing in the lake.

All this comes about from a wonderful new resource I've only just found. GenealogyBank has the largest online collection of historical newspapers I have found and, better yet, the pages have been OCR'd and the full text is searchable. A search for "Kokernot" in Louisiana for the 1820s turned up two items, shown here. The first, in the August 25, 1827, issue of the Louisiana Advertiser announced that LM had drowned while bathing in the lake. The second, two days later, announced that his business was being taken over by his widow.

OCR, the process of converting a photograph of text into a text file that can be edited or searched is notoriously difficult to do accurately. It's more than difficult with old newspapers with poor printing quality further deteriorated by time. That search for "Kokernot" was actually a search for "Kok*t" which will find common misspellings such as Kokenut, Kokernut, Kokernott, and the rest, and also immunize against some OCR errors, such as confusing "r" and "n." Even so, there are doubtless other occurrances of "Kokernot" that OCR failed to recognize. The patient researcher would, of course, scan the pages online by eyeball. That is possible now for many, many, old newspapers that were unavailable online before