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How A Digital Database Revealed The Early Days Of Delano

Historians will always need to visit archives and libraries, although it is truly amazing how much information is available in digital form.

A few months ago, I was looking at a Sedgwick County mapping database and was surprised when a search for material on Delano turned up a document for the community of Elgin, platted in early 1871. A quick search turned up an almost identical plat for the community of Delano a few months later. Clearly, one replaced the other.

Another database provided some answers. The Library of Congress’ Chronicling America project involves a digitized, searchable sampling of newspapers from 1836 to 1922. A search for newspapers in Kansas in 1871 revealed an article in the Emporia News from February 17, about how “a company has laid out a town on the opposite side of the river which has been named Elgin.”

Just over a month later, an article in the March 24 edition of the same paper explained that “the name was changed to Delano recently on account of the post office, one having been created in Howard County a short time ago by that name.” By May 1871, the paperwork was completed and Elgin became Delano, named after U.S. Secretary of Interior Columbus Delano.

Historians will always rely on archives, reading books and interviewing people, but, as this story suggests, shouldn’t overlook the growing and significant amount of material that is available online to assist in their work.

Jay M. Price is chair of the department of history at Wichita State University, where he also directs the public history program.