LDS volunteers mark three-year milestone in digitization project

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – Volunteers who have worked to digitize paper records housed at the old Shelby County Courthouse recently celebrated the project’s progress over the last three years.

The Columbiana Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hosted a special Tribute and Celebrate Success event this summer to recognize those who have helped with the project and to share their accomplishments with the community.

“We have worked tirelessly for three years with the Shelby County Historical Society and FamilySearch.org to capture important historical information in the old courthouse in Columbiana, and to digitize and scan it for eventual use by genealogists, history buffs and families here and throughout the world,” the invitation read.

The project stemmed from Shelby County Historical Society’s concern regarding the protection of the area’s many records – documents for marriages, births, deaths and even school records – stored inside the old courthouse, a structure built in 1854 and maintained by the historical society to house the Shelby County Museum and Archives.

The books are getting old and difficult to handle, and being able to keep them safe is the issue.

As with other buildings, the old courthouse and its contents are vulnerable to damage in the event of a storm or fire.

The fragility of the paper documents, some of which date back to the early 1800s, and the need to preserve them in a more durable format prompted action.

Historical Society member Clem Muck enlisted the help of FamilySearch, a nonprofit genealogy organization based in Utah.

Volunteers have used equipment provided by FamilySearch to take pictures of each document, which they then send to the organization to be compiled in an online index.

The equipment and processing costs were paid for by FamilySearch.

“We have finished three years’ worth of digitizing and scanning records in the Shelby County Museum and Archives,” Muck said. “We have put in 5,000 hours during that period of time using full-time missionaries and other volunteers, and 1 million documents have been recorded. All of those documents will be preserved in the FamilySearch archives, and then, it’s available to anybody—to people here and around the country. This is all free.”

Barry Sadler, Stake President of the Bessemer Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said the church appreciates the opportunity to serve with other churches and organizations to benefit local communities through projects like archive digitization.

“You think about these records that have been kept by Shelby County, and to have that opportunity to digitize these records and make them available to people around the world through the Internet is an amazing thing,” he said. “It seems to have been a smooth process.”

Sadler commended volunteers from different groups for their efforts in carrying out the project.

“It’s been a coordinated effort among a lot of people,” Sadler said. “It’s been gratifying to see what all these volunteers have accomplished by serving and working together in the community.”

“I can’t express enough the wonderful relationships we have established with the missionaries and the quality of their service and work on behalf of Columbiana and Shelby County,” said Jennifer Maier, director of both the Shelby County Museum and Archives and Shelby Iron Works. “You have benefitted us, the community and certainly your church’s reputation with the help and service you have provided.”