Sunday, April 12, 2015

I Once Was Lost, But Now I'm Found

I can personally relate to the line from John Newton's hymn, Amazing Grace.  Every day I am grateful for the miracle the Lord has performed in allowing me to be His disciple.  "I once was lost, but now I'm found."  Our work here as record preservation volunteers has become a metaphor of sorts--seeing the disarray in the "lives" of these documents, and patiently working with them, as Christ does with me, organizing and preparing them for an "eternal life."

We've been working on Vigo County's probate records now for 2 months, nibbling away "one bite at a time" on the "elephant" that is in our room at the warehouse.  There are 1,041 boxes of probate packets.  We've done 41.  Yup, that's about a box per day--two years to go.  I hope Daddy doesn't make me eat everything on my plate before I can go out to play.

We open a box and most of the time find a hodge-podge of papers, some loose, some tied in bundles.

Each box is a surprise, some neat and tidy, others a jumble of random papers

Ann is good at getting them into stacks of documents according to the testator, the deceased person for whom the probate hearing was held.

Each pile, documents that were generated by the death of an individual

The county's record of all of these probate cases is contained in two large index books that were made in the mid-1900's.  After getting the stacks organized, we have to verify that the packets are each in the right box so that our "tagging" of the images will agree with the county's information.  Often we find documents that belong somewhere else and have just been stored incorrectly, like a librarian finding a book about snakes in with the biographies.  

The Probate Index Books--Would you help extract the data?

These two books have become so invaluable that we've taken it upon ourselves to extract the information from them so that we can search it digitally, and so that we can correct and add information that we are finding as we work with the documents.

I've "unofficially" digitized both books.  They are not part of our FamilySearch project, and FamilySearch doesn't want the extraction data, but the county clerks do.  It will save them handling the fragile books, and make it easier for them to locate specific images for their purposes.  I've got the images on my personal computer, so we work on it at home each night.  It takes about 20 minutes per page.  There are nearly 400 pages in each book, however, and it's becoming pretty obvious that we can't keep up.

A page from the Index Books like I would send to you 

Would any of you like to help?  I'd send to you, via email, a few "tif" format images and a blank Excel spreadsheet into which you would enter what you read on the image.  You'd email me back the completed spreadsheet.  I'm sure that it would bring the spirit of this Family History work into your life more fully, and you can be assured that it would be helping us in our small corner of the Lord's Vineyard to produce some good fruit.  Let me know of your willingness to help:

The next step in the journey for that jumble of documents is getting unfolded, flattened, uncreased, and uncovered so that we can lay it quickly on the capture table and image it without a lot of fuss and fiddling.  The goal is to keep that camera clicking.  I can almost prep the documents as fast as Ann can capture them, but with all the organizing and verifying to do, we just can't do it all on our own.

Thank goodness for volunteers from the local LDS congregations, the Wabash Valley Genealogical Society (of which we are now members), and the Terre Haute community.  We've had 2 or 3 people for a couple of hours most mornings during the last month, which has nearly doubled our daily productivity count.

Community and church volunteers preparing documents for the camera

Each document then gets its turn in the bright lights, probably its first appearance on stage since it's debut nearly 200 years ago.  It is then stored in a folder and returned to its original box, ready to be restacked in a dark corner of the warehouse, more than likely never again to see the light of day.

A box of documents organized and ready to return to the stacks,
a little better than we found it.

It's fate is to crumble to dust or to face the eventual paper shredder, but its spirit will live on.  The image we took of it will be available for millions to view, and the man or woman of whom it bears record can guide us to it as we turn our hearts to our fathers. (Malachi 4:5-6)

Be A Part of the Picture
I'm grateful for the daily reminder that no matter how crumpled or torn my life is, God will find me, lift me, heal me, and perfect me if I am willing, ready to live with him forever--not in some dark corner, but in his eternal light.