History detective work corrects error

Sometimes when people dig into their family history, they find surprises. Some find an illegitimate relative, a changed surname or a hidden passion.

We found our birth year was different than we had thought.

We have been touting “since 1894” in our masthead for years. The Enterprise celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1969 and its 100th in 1994, presuming the 1894 origin.

In preparing for our 125th anniversary, we learned that it isn’t until next year. Veteran reporter James Odato — an Enterprise alum from the 1970s, now freelancing — and Saranac Lake Free Library archivist Michele Tucker found proof that the Enterprise’s first issue was published on Feb. 21, 1895, not 1894, as we had previously believed — although we didn’t know when in 1894 because almost no early copies of the paper survive.

One could joke that this is one of a reporter’s oldest tricks — extend the deadline — but the facts are pretty indisputable. Odato and Tucker found five reports from other Franklin County newspapers on the Enterprise printing its first issue in February 1895.

We are in our 125th year, though, and one project we’re working on to celebrate that is a special section full of stories about how this paper has served the Tri-Lakes community over the years. One of the most important ways we serve, and therefore one story we thought was important to tell, is about the record of the community.

Newspapers are often called the “first draft of history,” and that they are. There is no better record of a community’s big events as well as day-to-day life. One of the highest compliments we can remember hearing came from a friend who said the Enterprise news staff went about its business with a “paper-of-record attitude.”

But no matter what attitude we bring, our primary task is not to preserve that record but to add to it every day and get it into people’ hands.

We know the Enterprise has not done as well as some newspapers at preserving its archives. That’s partly due to a disaster beyond the newspaper’s control. In its early decades, the Enterprise was based in the Harrietstown Town Hall, and when the original town hall burned down in 1926, so did the Enterprise plant.

The other other big archive purge was a deep cleaning in 1953, when old papers were taken to the dump.

Later, the Enterprise put its papers on microfilm, which it donated to the Saranac Lake Free Library in the 1990s. We are grateful to archivists at the library and the Adirondack Experience in Blue Mountain Lake for keeping our archives, and to the Northern New York Library Network for digitizing them on NYS Historic Newspapers for all to use — but they only go back to 1953, except for a few stray copies.

The first nearly six decades are largely lost.

But not other newspapers. We are grateful to all the people — many of them deceased — who preserved papers such as the Franklin Gazette, Adirondack News and Malone Palladium. In 1994, we wouldn’t have known where to look for those papers’ reporting on the Enterprise’s origin. The public benefits of internet archiving can’t be overstated.

It is the policy of the Enterprise to correct errors of fact, no matter how old, and we are doing so. As we say with every correction, the Enterprise regrets the error. We hope it reminds people that we are sincere in our mission to get all the facts right, even if we sometimes don’t. We hope it inspires others to correct long-held errors in their lives as well.

Perhaps most of all, we hope it highlights the importance of historical record keeping and research. The fascinating stories of our lives, past and present, are there for the reading — as long as records of them exist. But then again, patchy records offer opportunity for great detective work.

STORY: Enterprise had its origin date wrong for decades