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The Sentinel Index

By Jill Fleck and Dan Kentowski on Sep 9, 2022 12:00 AM

The Business and Periodicals Department of the Milwaukee Public Library’s Central Library features a unique index of the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper, covering its founding in 1837 up though 1890.  The index was created during the 1930’s through funding from the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and is housed in a set of large card catalogs on the 2nd floor of the library.

The index was created by workers that basically took the physical Milwaukee Sentinel every day and documented major events and names of people that appeared in the paper and put them on index cards.  The index itself is broken down by years.  One side of the card catalog set features 1837-1879; the other side covers 1880-1890. 

The index cards are arranged alphabetically by subject. For each topic or subject, the card itself contains the following information:

  • Year of publication in the Milwaukee Sentinel
  • Subject of article — usually major events or names of places or people.  Names are always arranged last name, first name.
  • Summary of article 
  • Year of article
  • Month, date, page and column of the article

The cards are not removable from the catalog, so you’ll need to note the important information regarding the article you’d like to view. For example, if we were looking for articles published about Abraham Lincoln speaking at the Wisconsin State Fair in 1859, we would find the card with “LINCOLN, ABRAHAM” as its subject on the 1837-1879 side of the catalog:  

The info presented on the card shows that the text of Abraham Lincoln’s speech at the state fair can be found in the Oct. 1st, 1859 edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel on page 1, column 2.

You would then head to the Periodicals Service Desk to pick up a copy of the Milwaukee Sentinel on microfilm. You’ll need to provide the publication name and date of the newspaper, and the employee at the desk will give you the microfilm after filling out a brief form.

The microfilm reels often cover many months of a publication. The article we are looking for (October 1st, 1859) is on this reel.

Once you have your microfilm, we can assist you in placing the reel onto a reader properly.  Then, you simply go to the date of the article you want on the film and find the proper page and column of the article you are seeking.


The front page of the Milwaukee Sentinel from October 1, 1959 looks like this:

And the index card pointed us to page 1, column 2 (don’t worry, the microfilm reader allows you to zoom in and out easily to better read specific articles and sections):

Once you find the article you want on the microfilm, you can crop it, print it, send it in an email to your own account or save it onto a flash drive – whatever works best for your research.

That’s how easy this index is to use!  Happy hunting!

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