By Ashley M. Casey
First-time visitors to fultonhistory.com might be taken a little off-guard when they see a playful animated goldfish and neon text on the home page.
These quirky elements belie the vast project the site contains: more than 25 million newspaper pages collected by Tom Tryniski, a retired Fultonian.
In 1998, Tryniski developed an interest in old postcards. A friend lent him his mother and grandmother’s collection of postcards depicting the booming days of Fulton’s business past. His scope spread to old photographs and newspapers too.
“I scanned them in and I put them on a real simple website … on a redirect out of Russia,” Tryniski said.
At the time, his internet service provider would not allow the bandwidth for a commercial website with an American domain.
Since retiring from Harland Simon in 1999, Tryniski has devoted his own time and money to digitizing and uploading records of the past using a simple scanner, several PCs, and word recognition software that makes the newspapers searchable.
He invested in a microfilm scanner for $3,500 to expand his collection.
“I produced over four million images with that scanner,” he said.
In 2001, Tryniski approached then-publisher Vince Caravan about creating archives for the Valley News.
“I took a box every three or four days and I hand-scanned them with a flatbed scanner that was slow as molasses,” Tryniski remembered.
He moved on to scanning the Fulton Patriot and other area newspapers. Now he’s tackling more East Coast publications.
In March 2013, online news outlet ReasonTV released a video comparing Tryniski’s work to the Library of Congress’ “Chronicling America” collection.
Using $22 million in grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Chronicling America has digitized nearly seven million pages. That’s about $3 per newspaper page in costs to taxpayers.
Fultonhistory.com, which includes archives of the Valley News, the Palladium-Times, the Brooklyn Eagle and other newspapers across New York state and beyond, has 25,084,000 pages online, available for free.
The site also averages six million page views per month, twice that of Chronicling America’s.
Tryniski said that the feedback he receives about fultonhistory.com is very positive. Many people use his archives for genealogy research, or just to reminisce about “things they haven’t seen in years and years.”
Reading the newspapers he has collected has been a learning experience for Tryniski.
“I’m finding a lot of nice information about Fulton in the ‘30s and ‘20s,” he said, adding that the technical aspects of this pastime keep him on his toes as well.
He also assists site visitors in their research. “Not only do I get to help someone, but I get to learn myself,” he said.
Tryniski said he has no time for other hobbies. The scanning process keeps him incredibly busy, which he enjoys.
“I find it hard to focus on two things at once,” Tryniski said. “I’m only good at one thing at a time.”
Tryniski has created multiple backup copies of his archive just in case.
“I’m not going to let it drop off the internet if something happens to me,” he said.
As for what’s next for Tryniski, the piles of newspapers and photos in his house should keep him busy for years to come.