Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Sounds of Christmas

Oh, come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
Oh, come ye, oh come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and behold him, born the King of angels;
Oh, come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Christmas Festival at Wabash College
Elder Packham was involved in several musical events during the month. One special occasion was the Christmas Festival held at the chapel on the campus of Wabash College. He played with the brass ensemble. It was a moving experience to COME with other community members, of all different faiths, to ADORE HIM.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come; 
Let earth receive her King! 
Let every heart prepare him room, 
And Saints and angels sing... 

Cookies and Caroling
The missionaries in Crawfordsville went "cookies and caroling" as requested by the mission president.  Throughout the evening, we could not agree on the words to Joy to the World.  Some were letting heaven and nature sing, while others allowed saints and angels to sing.  Sister Herzog insisted that we wear her Christmas hats.  Bro. and Sis. Swinford were Santa, Elder Packham and I were elves and the sisters were reindeer.  Besides sugar filled treats, the sisters gave out He Is the Gift pass along cards.

Angels we have heard on high sweetly singing o'er the plains,
 And the mountains in reply echoing their joyous strain. 

Crawfordsville Ward Primary

One of our tender moments came in Primary. For sharing time, the children prepared for a live nativity. There were just enough costumes and parts for all the children. Of course, Mary and Joseph made the journey.  There was a shepherd, a few wise "people", and a respectable host of angels. As I quietly played this hymn and the angels hummed in the background, ward members filed into the Primary room. They just stood and reverently pondered on what they were witnessing. There was a special spirit there.

What Child is this, who, laid to rest
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
The babe, the son of Mary.

Mission Conference

We attended the Indianapolis Mission Christmas Conference in Fishers, Indiana. They had asked Elder Packham to play What Child Is This, on his French Horn for a musical number. It added to the spirit of our training that morning as our leaders used the scriptures to teach us of Jesus Christ. The afternoon's activities were fun for the young missionaries as they associated with each other, received gifts from home and from Elder "Santa".

With wondering awe the wise men saw the star in heaven springing, 
And with delight, in peaceful night, they heard the angels singing: 
Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna to his name. 

Christmas lights at the Montgomery County Courthouse

All of the lights associated with Christmas time remind us of the star that proclaimed to the whole earth that the Savior was born. We enjoyed seeing the lights and displays in the shop windows downtown. Many homes on Main Street were festively decorated. Through effort and some creativity, we adorned our own Christmas tree in the apartment. 

Silent night! Holy night! 
Son of God, love's pure light radiant beams from thy holy face, 
With the dawn of redeeming grace, 
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth. 

Visual reminders of the season

While singing this beloved hymn one Sunday, I was reminded of the fact that the first Christmas night was indeed the dawn of redeeming grace. As missionaries, we tried to maintain an atmosphere in our apartment that would remind us of the life and mission of the Savior. For 30 days prior to December 25th, we hung a quote from Preach My Gospel that taught about Jesus Christ. While not intended, the other objects in the picture testify of the mission of Christ as well.  The nativity set; the picture of the Ogden Temple; the statue of a mother and daughter reminding me of family members who are not with us this year; and the clock given to me by my family representing the need to use our time in mortality to become more like our Savior.

What can I give Him, poor as I am? 
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb. 
If I were a wise man, I would do my part. 
Yet, what can I give Him, 
I can give Him my heart. 

It's raining "love" in the kitchen

Because we ran out of wrapping paper, Elder Packham's gift to me was uniquely delivered. As I entered the kitchen, I saw an umbrella hanging from the light fixture with homemade snowflakes and a personal message to me. (It looks like I am holding the umbrella, but it is actually suspended from the light).  Gift giving is part of the Christmas tradition.  Thank you to all who offered us your gifts this year.

I heard the bells on Christmas day their old familiar carols play 
And wild and sweet the words repeat 
Of peace on earth, good will to men. 

Skyping with family on Christmas morning

We loved hearing the voices of friends and loved ones through the telephone wires. We loved seeing your faces through skyping. We loved reading your messages of good will through the postal service.  We loved mingling with "peaceable followers of Christ" (Moroni 7:3-4) in the ward and neighborhood through activities.  It was a happy Christmas in Crawfordsville. We missed home, the traditions and the people we love, but the spirit of Christmas can surely be felt anywhere in the world. 

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Begotten Son."

Sunday, December 7, 2014

No Two Snowflakes

They say there are no two snowflakes alike.  I think the same could be said for old probate documents from Montgomery County, Indiana.  We have appreciated that our first assignment on our mission was to capture images of individual documents related to probate cases instead of uniform pages from books, which tend to look all the same.  The documents we've seen the last five months are refreshingly unique.

This document we call the introvert - I am not putting down introverted people, because I am one.
150 year old creases and folds

It came to us all folded up in a nice, little bundle.  It took some work to get it to venture out of its comfort zone of the last 150 years.  We stretched and pulled and bent the pages to get it to lay flat enough to capture.

A cousin to the introvert, is the extrovert.

Back in the days, this type of document may have been tacked to a wooden post or a board in the public square, needing to be seen by members of the community.

We have seen twin images that, because of their shape, look like other things.

Use your imagination

There have been documents in the shape of Nebraska and Vermont.  Some resemble boats, clouds, hour glasses, and trapezoids.  One of my favorites is this Abraham Lincoln profile.

Quite frequently we receive hospital patients, the sick or damaged documents.
Poor thing.  It needs some TLC

They require surgery, therapy and healing.  We find dozens of little, or big, pieces of paper and need to figure out where each one fits.
All of these pieces resulted in a multi page document

Unlike Humpty Dumpty, we try to put them together again.

We have giants who are very tall.

 We have tiny, baby documents.

  They come in all colors, too.

Documents often come in families, attached to each other.
Green and Red Ribbons

Sometimes they are glued or sewn together.  We have seen pins, heavy duty staples, rivets, brads, string, and pieces of ribbon.  Brothers and sisters need to stay together, so we attach them as a group.

With the improvements in printing procedures, some receipts after 1850, would include beautiful logos and headings.
One of our "beauty queens"

Too often we judge a document by its outward appearance.  Even the plainest document contains beautiful handwriting and valuable information.
This clerk should get an A in penmanship

What is important is not the elaborate art on the outside, but what is contained on the inside to help a researcher know the person who lived.

We love the variety in our documents.  It has made us reflect on the variety of God's children.  All are alike unto God, yet He knows each one of us. Elder Maxwell has said,

"I testify to you that God has known you individually...for a long, long time.  He has loved you for a long, long time...He knows your names and all your heartaches and your joys!" 
(Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been, Ensign May 2004, pg 46)  

Whether we consider ourselves tall or short, introvert or extrovert, damaged or complete, we all contain something worth "capturing"-- our identity as a child of God.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Day In the Life . . .

When it comes to the day-in, day-out schedule, ours is a fairly predictable routine.  We are to "keep that camera clicking" as much as we can, so that means being in the courthouse for its entire business day--weekdays from 8:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M.  We choose to get up at 5 A.M. to get in personal scripture study and journaling, exercise, and breakfast before we have to get ready, pack our lunch, and leave.  We've been enjoying the half-mile walk to the courthouse until the winter weather set in this last couple of weeks.
The first snow seen from our front door

The first thing we do each morning is calibrate the camera to make sure that everything is adjusted correctly for the best possible images. It takes about 10 minutes, and we do it two more times during the day as a precaution against possible changes due to bumps or jars to the equipment.  Focusing needs to be SO precise--it's done clear down at the pixel level, and that's minute, considering we are using a 37-megapixel camera.
Tools for calibrating contrast, white balance, focus, and color

Then we begin taking pictures. We are working through folders of probate records. Since coming mid-July we've captured over 140,000 images--that's about 2,000 per good day. We work together as a team. While one of us does some final preparation of the documents, the other takes the picture. We switch positions often to relieve our legs and back from standing and bending over.

After approximately 400 images are captured, every 60-90 minutes, we “evaluate” them. The computer shows us a "slide show" of images, one per second. If we notice any problems, we flag them so we can go back and fix the problems. By the end of our evaluation, we have a good feeling that our images meet the quality standards. Here are a few errors we have to watch for:

Auditors don’t like to see the photographer in their images. Often we get in a hurry and will click the camera before our hands and fingers are out of the way.
It looks like I got caught in this one!

Not only do we need to keep our fingers out of the way, we can’t cast a shadow on the image either. This happens if we click too soon or get between the lights and document.

A shadow lurking in the corner--AND it needs a clockwise rotation.

We check rotation. The majority of the writing needs to read from left to right--“right-reading.”  It gets to be quite a mental exercise, and time consuming, to determine which way is up.
 Writing in all four directions--how fun is that!

Quality control requires adequate cropping, which means that the edge of the document must be visible all the way around.  This image has one corner out of the crop.
The top-left corner needs to be seen--the crop is too tight.

We also need to red-flag documents that may have special issues such as glued or covered information, or damaged documents that make it difficult to read.
150 years takes its toll on some of the documents.

The tiff files of the images are huge, hundreds of megabytes each. At the end of each week we hope to have captured about 10,000 images. We transfer them to a portable terabyte hard drive and FedEx it to FamilySearch headquarters in Salt Lake City for auditing and storage in the solid-granite vaults tunneled into the mountains above Salt Lake City.
A week's worth of work ready to FedEx to SLC

At the end of the day, we are pretty exhausted.  We fix supper, do a little of our own family history research, read scriptures together, and hit the sack about 10, grateful for being able to serve and for all of you back home who encourage and support us.

And THAT'S what a Record Preservation Specialist does, at least in our neck of the Indiana woods.  Ann isn't comfortable with the title "specialist," since we only have had a little over a week of official training.  That's what the Prophet has called us to be, though. We're hoping that as we work at it, we'll eventually "become" what we are meant to be. It's not too much different than "magnifying" any other calling. I believe Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley's words:

"If you will accept every call that comes to you within the Church, you will grow in a remarkable and marvelous and wonderful way. With responsibility comes growth, and the Lord will magnify you and make you equal to every responsibility which is given you."

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Tools of the Trade

Accountants can't survive without an eraser.  Doctors must be proficient with scalpels and sutures.  A musician needs a saxophone or a bass fiddle.  A mechanic depends on wrenches of various sizes.  Everyone has their instruments of trade.  Record Preservation Specialists for FamilySearch require documents and a camera.  The first few weeks in Crawfordsville became a tutorial for using our specialized tools.


Probate Packet--We'll photograph several thousand of these
Our first assignment has been to capture probate records, documents relating to the inventory and disposition of personal assets and debts of a person passing away.  Often valuable family history information is found in these records.  Obviously a date of death may be present.  A listing of family members, their ages and birth places can be found.  And often interesting facts about their occupation and lifestyle appear.

Rescued from the Dungeon
The probate records we are preserving date from 1824 to 1888.  They had been stored for many years in file drawers in the basement of the Montgomery County courthouse, subject to aging, deterioration, and natural and man-made disasters such as floods or fires.  Employees have microfilmed many of the records after 1888 and are currently digitally scanning more recent documents so that the hard copies which take up a lot of room, can be replaced.  The county clerks were eager to have us come and work with the older documents.

During June of this year, a team of 28 community volunteers spent 18 days emptying the contents of the metal file drawers. They contained small, 4 X 9 envelopes called probate packets.  Some packets had only 1 or 2 documents.  Others had over 200.  The volunteers did their best to remove centuries-old creases, crumpled edges, and folded corners.  The diligent efforts of that volunteer team have made our work go so much faster.

The Work Ahead of Us
The volunteers placed the contents of each packet in legal-size, individual file folders and labeled them with the decedent's name.  108 drawers of documents became 25 large boxes for us to work through.


First Day of Assembly--Our Field Supervisor, Br. Titus
We have a corner of a room in the basement of the courthouse where we've set up shop.  With the help of our field supervisor from FamilySearch, we got the equipment assembled in one day.  He stayed with us for a few more days to train us and make sure the equipment was functioning as it should.

Special lights provide consistent illumination.  All other ambient light is minimized. Black plastic sheeting is covering the cracks in the door and cardboard is taped to the windows.

We call him Nick--our Nikon camera
The camera is mounted on an extremely solid, aluminum framework to minimize any movement that might cause distortion or blur.  We are using a sophisticated 37-megapixel Nikon camera that produces images that are still clear even at 10 times the original size of the document.

At first we imagined listening to music or talks on CD's while we were busy at work.  We soon realized it takes a lot of concentration to capture each image, and we also found that neither one of us is good at multitasking.  We cannot carry on a conversation and rotate an image at the same time.

Our capture board is about five feet long.  The documents are squarely centered on the capture board underneath the camera.  We don't touch the camera, but interface with it through 16 extra computer control keys.  These determine the size of the crop we will use for each document, the rotation of the image, and allow us to quickly perform other capturing functions.

All the Tools Working Together
We use software called DCam which was created specifically for FamilySearch imaging teams.  We have a very large hard drive, monitor, keyboard and mouse.  It is a lot of equipment in such a small space.

Tricks of the Trade

We made several trips to the hardware store and craft store that first week of set up.  No project of any value would be complete without scissors!  We used a can of black spray paint to blacken knitting needles to use for pointers.  We painted clamps and vise grips black to hold down those unruly edges that insist on sticking up.  We bought black masking tape for repairs.  Our trainer suggested using rubber thumbs, but they just made us "all thumbs."  A squirt bottle and even an iron have come in handy to soften and remove crinkles.  I might not iron Michael's white shirts, but I have ironed old documents.  And our favorite piece of equipment?  Michael went out on break one day and came back with a hand vacuum from the thrift store at a cost of  $3.  With such fragile documents, paper fragments are constantly falling to the floor.  We can now clean up at the end of the day.

Spiritual Tools

Prayer Is A Powerful Tool
We have been grateful for the tools FamilySearch has provided for us.  We are grateful to have spiritual tools also.  In the October 2014 General Conference, Elder Richard G. Scott said, "Our Father in Heaven has given us tools to help us come unto Christ and exercise faith in His Atonement. . .  When we are consistently praying morning and night, studying the scriptures daily, having weekly family home evening, and attending the temple regularly, we are actively responding to His invitation to 'come unto Him'."  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

" . . . having obtained a good report through faith"

In accepting the call to serve full-time missions, Ann and I stepped out into the unknown.  We knew nothing about record preservation, yet we were to be "specialists."  We knew only as much about FamilySearch as we had used in our own research and family history work.  We had read some sections of Preach My Gospel before our call, yet it was to be like scripture to us in the broader aspect of our being missionaries.  Indiana was just a place on the map that we'd spent a couple of days in during the 2013 Tabernacle Choir Tour.  Our training at the MTC and in Salt Lake City only scratched the surface of what we would be doing in our specific corner of the vineyard.

Light at the end of the "tunnel," one of Indiana's covered bridges
So many unknowns.  Faith was our only light in the darkness, and it has provided the firm foundation on which we've been able to build.  We are being blessed with success, "obtaining good reports through faith" (Hebrews 11:39) as we grow.

Terabyte drive we send each Friday
We have submitted 106,000 images to the FamilySearch audit team during these first 13 weeks.  Only one has been returned for us to fix--to rotate it 90 degrees.  The glory for such a "good report" goes entirely to God.  We've been prompted by the Spirit to go back and fix errors.  Our attention to detail has been beyond our natural ability.  Physically staying on task for those 8 hours every day is a gift from Heaven.  We've been given insight into how to work with the delicate documents and better control the camera and software.  All this strengthened our faith.

Giving a FamilySearch presentation to the Genealogy Club
We are "strangers in a strange land," yet as we've reached out to the folks around us, trying to enlarge our circle of friends, we have found them in the ward, at the courthouse and in the community.  This has required its own application of faith, going beyond our normal level of comfort.
Rehearsing with the community band

This last week the local paper printed an article about us and our work, another "good report" that came from our dependence on the Lord.

We find our foundation of faith in knowing that God is aware of us, has sent us here, and is giving us support through the Spirit and through the presence of those Indiana pioneers whose records we are preserving.  In the end, it is God's "good report" that we seek, "lifting where we stand" in this work of building his Kingdom. 

Here's the text from the article:

Volunteers Help With County Records

Documents are fading and deteriorating
Some of Montgomery County's vital records date back to the 1820s.  They are deteriorating, yet the county is required by law to preserve the information.  Preserving the actual documents is too costly, and the county doesn't have the manpower to microfilm them all.  To solve this problem, the Montgomery County Chief Deputy Clerk, Valerie Howard, working under the direction of Clerk Jennifer Bentley, has entered into an agreement with FamilySearch to digitally preserve these old documents.

FamilySearch is a nonprofit family history organization.  It has the largest archive of historical and genealogical records in the world, over 3 billion documents.  FamilySearch has pioneered industry standards for gathering, imaging, indexing, and preserving records, and shares these resources free of charge worldwide.

Community and LDS Ward worked together to prepare them
During June, a team of volunteers, organized by local genealogy expert Stephen Thompson, prepared the Montgomery County probate records from 1824 to 1888 for photographing.  Since mid-July two record-preservation specialists from FamilySearch have been digitally capturing these records with sophisticated camera and computer equipment.  These specialists are a husband/wife team, Michael and Ann Packham.  They left their retirement in Utah to work 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM every weekday at the courthouse, taking the approximately 180,000 images.  They are doing this at their own expense as a ministry for their faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The process, one prepares and the other captures
At approximately 10,000 images per week, the project is now about half done.  In addition to the probate records, it will also include large indexes of wills and marriages.  After finishing this project the Packhams will continue to serve in other Indiana counties until December, 2015, the end of their 18-month ministerial calling.

The public is invited to the Packhams' corner of the courthouse basement to see the process.  They are also giving presentations about family history and the preservation project to youth, civic, and religious groups, and they are helping individual families get started on their own histories.

County clerks receiving the first 33,000 images from SLC
The images will not only be available through the county clerk's office, but will eventually be online at for use by historians, genealogists, and the descendants of these pioneers of our community.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Establish a House

   "...Establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God."  (D & C 88:119)

   Our first priority on arriving in Crawfordsville, was to "establish a house".  The missionaries had already arranged for our housing weeks ahead of time.  We simply moved in with our own belongings.  We finally had a home.  However, within a few days we discovered other houses that would be important in our new life in Indiana.

A House of Prayer

First day at the Courthouse.
   Just four blocks east of our apartment is the Montgomery County Courthouse.  We occupy a small storage room in the basement where the probate records are kept.  Our shift begins at 8:00 in the morning and ends at 4:30 in the afternoon every day the courthouse is open.
   We always begin the day with prayer.   We have affectionately named our Nikon camera, Nick.  We have prayed that he and the other equipment would work together properly.  We have prayed that we could solve problems beyond our own understanding.  We have prayed that our hand movements would be quick and efficient.  We have prayed that we would feel help from the other side.  
   More than once, our prayers have been answered as we have been prompted to ask questions, review our work to find errors, and try new procedures.  Alma chapter 34 tells us to pray over the flocks of the field.  We pray over the files of our project.

A House of Fasting

Elder Packham teaching "The Family Is of God"
   We attend the Crawfordsville Ward in the Lafayette Stake.  The members have been so friendly and helpful in making us feel welcome.  As a ward, we have been involved in several special fasts for members and for specific needs.  
   We have also been given the opportunity to serve in the Primary.  Michael leads the singing and I play the piano.  Right now we are preparing for the Sacrament Meeting program in November. Even though there are only 15 to 20 children in the Primary, they love to sing and they sing loud!  We really love the people in the Crawfordsville ward.

A House of Faith

506 West Main
   When we think of Main Street USA, we picture McDonalds, Kohls, and assorted Jiffy Lubes.  In Crawfordsville, Main Street is residential.  We share the building with three other tenants.  With a large kitchen, living room and bedroom, there is more than sufficient space.  Gratefully, the apartment came with a washer and dryer and two bathrooms that are functional most of the time (a story for another blog).
   This location immediately became a house of faith for us.  Our schedule allows us to arise early each morning to study, journal, and prepare for the day.  We have invited guests to our home that we felt needed gospel encouragement or to feel the spirit of love and peace in a home atmosphere.  We have entertained the missionaries as they have taught the gospel to others.  We have shared our own testimonies with many new friends of various faiths and backgrounds.  

A House of Learning

   We can learn in so many places.  Wabash College is only a few blocks from our apartment.  Michael has taken the opportunity to get involved in their music program.  He participated in the Concerts in the Park during the summer months.  He is practicing with the Wabash orchestra and a separate brass ensemble for upcoming concerts.  These groups are comprised of students, faculty and community members.
   Through new friends, I have collected Crinoids along the banks of the Sugar Creek and learned how to embroider greeting cards.  

A House of Glory

Sister Rowley's yellow daisies
    There are beautiful sights in Crawfordsville.  I have taken up the hobby of photographing the beauties of nature.  Everywhere we can see God's handiwork in His creations.  We have enjoyed seeing the squirrels at work preparing for the winter.  The flower gardens have been beautiful.  The green trees of the summer are quickly turning red, yellow and orange.  There is beautiful blue sky.  Sugar Creek and the Wabash River provide other beautiful scenery.  All of these testify of the glory and the goodness of God.


A House of Order

Building muscles at the gym
   There must be order and balance in our lives. Wherever Michael goes, whether on vacation or a new home, he scouts out the physical fitness facilities.  Athena Sport and Fitness is the local hangout for anyone who desires to swim, lift weights, run, or use the other "instruments of torture" (as I call them).  He has made several new friends at the gym, including an 80 year old man named Dick, who is so faithful in exercising every morning.
   The marque outside the building reads: "A year from now you will be sorry you didn't start today."  Last week, we made a renewed commitment to get ourselves in better shape.  A New Year's Resolution in October! 

A House of God

Old Town Cemetery
   One day when I was out walking I discovered a very old cemetery.  It was located in a secluded grove of trees, very peaceful and lovely.  It had been established in 1811.
   So often missionary work is only associated with "preaching the gospel".  Our work at the courthouse is also missionary work.  It brings our brothers and sisters to the House of God and unites families for eternity.  The records we are capturing represent real people whose descendants, someday, will come to know them and love them.  We are so grateful to be part of hastening the work.