Earlier this summer I took a call from a woman in Texas. She wanted a copy of an article from our microfilm of the local paper, the Tallahassee Democrat, to give her husband for Father's Day. He had played football for Leon High School. He cherished the memory of a game against local rivals in which he had been part of the winning play. An article about the game with a photograph including him had appeared on the front page. "It's all he ever talks about", she said.
The trouble was, she didn't know when the article was printed, or even who the opposing team had been. 1990 or 1991, she thought. Normally this would not be nearly enough to go on, but I was moved by her love for her husband, and said I would try to find it. We do have an index for those years.
There was nothing in the index. Coverage of high school sports is spotty, space being mainly devoted to professional and college sports. And schedules of high school football teams from 1991 are nowhere online. I e-mailed her that I couldn't get it to her by Father's Day, but that I would try anyway. Maybe she could give it to him on another occasion.
I trolled through two football seasons of microfilm, which took about six hours over a couple of weeks. I did actually find a story that included a small photo of her husband playing, but she said that wasn't the one she was talking about. I found the stories for the games against Leon High's two rivals, Godby and Rickards, for both years. None of them were even on the front page of the sports section, and none were accompanied by a photo.
The story wasn't there, I reported, wondering if it had been in the school paper. She actually showed up in person some weeks later, possibly in town for other reasons, and looked at the microfilm herself, with the same result. Would she ever tell her husband about her futile search for confirmation of his golden memory? I have a feeling that the story I found was the one, burnished and magnified in her husband's mind over the years.
You would think I had learned my lesson, but a few weeks ago, I did it once more. A man called from Boston, wanting a story from 1991, again, (is it a "25th anniversary" thing?) He had boxed with a local high school club in a state championship in St. Petersburg, and had won a "novice" title. The newspaper had printed a story with a photograph. He wasn't sure of the date, possibly May or June.
Nothing in our index. I searched the St. Pete Times in Newsbank for boxing stories. I found a story about a tournament in January '91 that even mentioned his club, but there was no corresponding story with photo on our microfilm. I looked dutifully through May and June, Nothing. He thanked me for my effort.
The one conclusion I can draw is that if people don't know when their story appeared, they may not be accurate in other particulars. I could detail a number of other such searches I have made over the years. "Fishing" for a story on microfilm is almost always a waste of time. It's better to suggest that they have their library borrow the microfilm for them to search.