Newspapers.com, OCR Limitations, and How I Learned my Great-Grandfather Liked Liquor

I recently completed a free trial of Newspapers.com.  I wasn’t sure what I’d find, if anything, because the limitations of optical character recognition (OCR) technology make searching for my Horn/Horne family challenging.  So often OCR sees “Horne” as “Home.”  And searching for “Horn” brings up thousands of mentions of brass instruments.

I saw the best results when forming very specific queries.  Their collection included The News-Star (Monroe, Louisiana) for the range in which my own engagement and marriage announcements were published.  Searching for “Jessica Horne” in the correct date range did not locate the articles — but as soon as I included “Collins” I was staring at my bridal portrait from 2006!

To be fair to Newspapers.com, this OCR frustration isn’t unique to their service.  I have the same problem with NewspaperArchive, Adobe PDF Reader, and Google books.  If OCR technology improved — or the printed source materials had just a tad more space between the R and N — how many more articles would I find for my Horn/Horne family?

I was excited to find a mention of my elusive great-grandfather John Thomas Horne in the November 12, 1898, edition of The Weekly Democrat-Times (Greenville, Mississippi).  It’s a printed petition for a liquor license.  (Because it appeared in a long, skinny column, I’ve only clipped to the portion where John Thomas’s name appears.  Send me a message if you’d like the whole piece.)  I’ve transcribed the upper portion below:

Petition for Liquor License
Petition for Liquor License – signed by John Thomas Horn (The Weekly Democrat-Times, Greenville, Mississippi – 12 Nov 1898

Petition for Liquor License.
To the Honorable Board of Supervisors of Washington county:
We, the undersigned, qualified electors of District No. 5 in said county and State, hereby petition your honorable body to grant unt
WILLIAM RICHARD EVERETT
a resident of said district, a license to sell vinous, spiritous, alcoholic, malt and intoxicating liquors in less quantities than one gallon, in a house to be erected on J. B. Sparks’ place on Jackson’s Bayou, in said District, County, and State, and we hereby recommend William Richard Everett to be of good reputation and sober and suitable person to receive such license and hereby certify him to be a resident of said District No. 5, and of good reputation; and your petitioners will ever pray.¹


John Thomas Horn signed about halfway down the first column (see highlighted name).  The name is the same, but is this man my John Thomas Horne?  I wasn’t sure at first, but careful analysis has convinced me he likely is.

I have no records for John Thomas Horne between his marriage to Georgia Smart in Winn Parish, Louisiana, in 1890, and his appearing in the 1900 census in Sunflower County, Mississippi.²  However, this 1898 petition suggests John Thomas Horn is a resident — or “qualified elector” — of District 5, Washington County, Mississippi.

The petition states the establishment was to be erected on “J. B. Sparks’ place” in the same district.  I found a Jim Sparks — the only Sparks in the county with a given name beginning with the letter “J” — in the 1900 census in Beat 5, Washington County (enumeration district 93), owning his property and working as a proprietor.³  The 1900 enumeration district maps for Washington County place Beat 5 in the southeastern portion of the county, bordering Sunflower County.⁴  The USGenWeb Census Project gives gives a textual description of ED 93 as “Beat 5 (part) including Belzoni town; All east of Sunflower river.”⁵

So that’s the location of the petitioned drinking establishment — but where was John Thomas?  The 1900 census identifies him in Beat 1, Sunflower County, Mississippi.⁶  The enumeration district maps indicate Beat 1 spanned the most southern portion of Sunflower County and included the town of Belzoni.⁷

Another unrelated record supports John Thomas Horne living in the Belzoni area in 1898 — his grandmother Malinda McCauley Johnston’s application for a Civil War widow’s pension.  John Thomas lived in the household of his grandfather John Johnston in the 1880⁸ census.  His grandmother Malinda appears his household in the 1900 census⁹, suggesting the family may have lived together throughout the period.  Malinda states John Johnston died August 5, 1898, in “Belzona,” Mississippi.¹⁰

These records suggest John Thomas Horne lived in the vicinity of Belzoni, Mississippi — most definitely on the Sunflower County side in 1900, and quite possibly on the Washington County side two years earlier.  I’d previously focused my research on Sunflower County, not realizing my great-grandfather had any connection to Washington County.  I have whole other county to explore for leads about John Thomas’s mysterious fate.

And, if nothing else, now I know my great-grandfather had a taste for liquor.


¹”Petition for Liquor License – William Richard Everett,” The Weekly Democrat-Times (Greenville, Mississippi), 12 Nov 1898, p. 2, col. 3; image copy, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/image/268612431 : accessed 20 Aug 2018).

²1900 U.S. Census, Sunflower County, MS, population schedule, Beat 1, enumeration district (ED) 48, p. 997 (penned), dwelling 239, family 244; John T Horn household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7602/4120349_00098/36072954 : accessed 17 Aug 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 31077_4120349.

³1900 U.S. Census, Washington County, MS, population schedule, Beat 5, enumeration district (ED) 93; p. 29 (penned), dwelling 449, family 467; Jim Sparks household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7602/4120356_00251/28531304 : accessed 1 Sep 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1240833.

⁴”Map of Washington County Enumeration Districts,” dated 7 Oct 1899; United States Enumeration District Maps for the Twelfth through the Sixteenth US Censuses, 1900-1940; digital image 586 of 897, FamilySearch.com (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-89HB-GCJV?i=585&wc=92VW-3T5%3A1077258801&cc=2329948); citing NARA microfilm publication A3378, roll 33.

⁵The USGenWeb Census Project, Washington County, Mississippi – 1900 Federal Census Team Transcription (http://www.us-census.org/states/mississippi/teams/Washington1900-T623-833.htm : accessed 1 Sep 2018), “ED #93.”

⁶1900 U.S. Census, Sunflower County, MS, pop. sch., Beat 1, enumeration district (ED) 48, p. 997 (penned), dwelling 239, family 244; John T Horn household.

⁷Map of Sunflower County Enumeration Districts,” dated1900; United States Enumeration District Maps for the Twelfth through the Sixteenth US Censuses, 1900-1940; digital image 707 of 897, FamilySearch.com (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-89HB-GXT4?i=706&wc=92VW-3T5%3A1077258801&cc=2329948); citing NARA microfilm publication A3378, roll 33.

⁸1880 U.S. Census, Winn Parish, LA, population schedule, 3rd Ward, enumeration district (ED) 54, p. 53 (penned), dwelling 1, family 1, John T Horn in the John Johnston household; digital image, com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4241440-00731/6491493 : accessed 17 Aug 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 474.

⁹1900 U.S. Census, Sunflower County, MS, pop. sch., Beat 1, enumeration district (ED) 48, p. 997 (penned), dwelling 239, family 244; Malinda Johnston in John T Horn household.

¹⁰Widow’s Application for Pension, 22 Jan 1906, application no. 5431, Malinda Johnston, widow of John Johnston, 24th Mississippi Infantry, Confederate Pension Applications, Louisiana State Archives; digital images 352-355, FamilySearch.com (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939F-VN99-L8?i=354&wc=M61M-TN5%3A165075701&cc=1838535 : accessed 1 Sep 2018); citing Louisiana Confederate Pensions, 1898-1950.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *