County records go digital

Posted on April 24th in News
Digitization eases search for family history
by Samantha White
Burns Times-Herald

Cheryl Wood, the family history director for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hines, uses a digital camera, mounted on an adjustable stand to photograph each page of the documents. (Photo by SAMANTHA WHITE )

Have you ever been curious about the branches of your family tree? Have you ever wished you knew more about your “roots”?

Harney County Clerk Derrin (Dag) Robinson and Grant County Clerk Brenda Percy are working with FamilySearch to digitize historical county records, including deeds, naturalization, marriage, water rights and probate records from 1889 to 1930. Digital copies of these records will be uploaded to FamilySearch’s website:
Documents will be indexed on the website and offered for the public to view free of charge. People from Harney County or with family in Harney County will be able to search for information pertaining to their relatives, making it easier for them to learn more about their family history.
FamilySearch is an organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to the organization’s website, FamilySearch is a “nonprofit family history organization dedicated to connecting families across generations.” FamilySearch is the largest genealogy organization in the world, and millions of people use the organization’s records, resources and services every year to learn more about their family history.
FamilySearch has partnered with county archives administrators throughout the U.S. to digitize historical records as a means of assisting with family research. The organization’s volunteers and representatives come on-site to digitally photograph documents in county archives.
Robinson said, considering the expense of digital conversion, agreeing to work with FamilySearch was a “no-brainer.”
“This project  is of great value to the people of Harney and Grant counties,” Robinson said. “It is a terrific service that FamilySearch is providing us. These types of digitization projects could cost tens of thousands of dollars, and these folks provide it to the people free of charge. It truly is an amazing gift to the folks of Harney County.”  
Robinson said because the organization completes digitization projects on-site, the possibility of losing documents in the mail is eliminated.
Locally, Cheryl Wood and her daughter, Tamara Mooney, have been trained to complete the digitization project. Wood is the family history director for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hines, and Mooney has been researching her family history for about 25 years. The mother-daughter team was recruited by Ray Harris. 
Harris is currently working to digitize Grant County’s documents in Canyon City. Because Harney County was carved from Grant County in 1889, the concurrent digitization projects will help tie the counties’ records together. 
In Harney County, the digitization project is taking place at the county clerk’s office in the Harney County Courthouse.
Wood described the digitization process as “technical.” Mooney takes the documents apart and organizes them into folders. Wood then uses a digital camera, which is mounted overhead on an adjustable stand, to photograph each page of the document. FamilySearch loans out 50 cameras for digitization projects throughout the U.S. The digital photographs are loaded into a computer, using a program with set page templates. This creates electronic versions of the documents. The electronic documents are saved onto external data storage drives, which are mailed to Salt Lake City weekly. In Salt Lake City, the documents are audited for approval and then uploaded to the FamilySearch website.
The next step is to index the information. Indexing is completed by volunteers. Anyone can help with the indexing process by logging onto the FamilySearch website and clicking the “Volunteer” link. Indexing makes documents searchable by linking them to individuals. 
Wood said she and Mooney have thousands of documents to digitize, and they have only just begun the project. She said she expects the process to take an additional two or  three months. However, Wood said documents being digitized in Harney County could be available for  public viewing on the FamilySearch website within four to six months. 
Wood and Mooney said they have come across some interesting documents in the course of the digitization process. For example, they found a  handwritten letter from a father to his daughter, wishing her a “long, happy married life.”
Wood said one of FamilySearch’s goals it to get more young people involved in family history and genealogy. She said FamilySearch’s website appeals to a more “tech-inclined” younger generation, but the site is filled with video tutorials, making it user friendly for people who are less familiar with computer technology. The website also offers tips to increase users’ success with discovering their heritage.
The FamilySearch website is similar to genealogy website However, one key difference between the sites is that the FamilySearch website is free. 
FamilySearch users can view historical documents from all over the world. In addition to viewing documents, users can work together to build their family trees, share family photos and stories and create interactive fan charts. 
The family tree feature allows users to discover information submitted by other users in their family line. Mooney explained that the site matches users to their family members and automatically fills in information submitted by them. 
“What they are trying to do is bring records together,” Wood explained.
FamilySearch users can search for family members by their names and birth dates. Users have access to billions of names, which could help them fill in missing branches on their family tree. 
The Family Tree Wizard feature helps new users by asking them questions about their living and deceased relatives and then automatically builds connections into a family tree. 
Each user can upload up to 5,000 photos and submit stories up to 100 pages in length. 
Users can also create interactive fan charts. Interactive fan charts use a colorful wheel to visually represent an individual’s ancestry, putting the individual at the center. Each layer of the wheel represents a different generation, and users can include up to six generations in their fan chart.
FamilySearch users can print  their family trees, fan charts and copies of historical documents for their records.  
“It’s a great service,” Wood said regarding the FamilySearch website. She added that she thinks genealogy is very important. “Our ancestors might be gone, but they are not forgotten,” she said. “They are part of who we are.”

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