For those who lived through it, on the battlefield or the home front, World War I was a life-defining event, and the Connecticut State Library wants to assure that family-held memories and mementos will be preserved and available to historians, students, genealogists or the simply curious. Beginning later this month, state library officials will hold a series of community events at which local residents are urged to bring in family letters, photographs, diaries, recorded stories and other objects from the World War I period.
Many genealogists, archivists, public officials often think the best way to save records for many years is to print the information on paper. However, paper is one of the most fragile storage methods available, as demonstrated recently in Watertown, NY.
Some 300 books were destroyed when a pipe burst in the basement of the Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library. A pipe from the heating and air conditioning system burst late in the afternoon, causing as much as three inches of water to end up on the floor. Fortunately, a couple of building maintenance workers were nearby when the pipe burst and acted quickly to control the leak. Had the leak occurred when the building was unoccupied, the damage could have been far worse.
More than 280 years after it was damaged in a fire, one of the original copies of the Magna Carta is legible again. There were four copies of the document created at the time. One, held by the British Library, was badly damaged in a fire in 1731. That copy can now be read on a computer screen after scientists used multispectral imaging to decipher the text of the “Burnt Magna Carta” without touching or further damaging the delicate parchment.
Multispectral imaging is a process that photographed the burnt parchment, using a variety of LED lights, spanning the spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared, outside the range of human vision. The various images each produces a few clues to the original ink. By combining the multiple images, text that is invisible to the naked eye is suddenly visible.
Writing in his blog, David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, describes a simple, but audacious initiative: to digitize the analog records of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and to make them available for online public access. He writes:
“We have over 12 billion pages of records, so yes, this is our moon shot.
“To achieve this goal, we know we need to think in radically new ways about our processes, and we have started by creating a new digitization strategy. From the time we published our 2008 digitization strategy through today, we have scanned over 230 million objects. This is a huge number, but we have a long road ahead. Our new strategy pushes us further.”
Do you have old home movies created by familiar members some years ago? If so, mark this date on your calendar: October 18, 2014.
Shot on 8 mm, Super 8, and 16 mm film, the movies often contain cherished family memories and invaluable social and historical images, but few people have the equipment to view them. Fewer still know how to maintain them for future generations.
If you do not see the video above on your screen, you can watch it at: http://vimeo.com/103197932.
According to the Center for Home Movies’ web site: Home Movie Day is a celebration of amateur films and filmmaking held annually at many local venues worldwide. Home Movie Day events provide the opportunity for individuals and families to see and share their own home movies with an audience of their community, and to see their neighbors’ in turn. It’s a chance to discover why to care about these films and to learn how best to care for them. Home Movie Day is a celebration of amateur films and filmmaking held annually at many local venues worldwide. Home Movie Day events provide the opportunity for individuals and families to see and share their own home movies with an audience of their community, and to see their neighbors’ in turn. It’s a chance to discover why to care about these films and to learn how best to care for them.”
Smithtown, New York, may have learned an expensive lesson. Genealogists, historians, title search companies, attorneys, and more will also encounter difficulties because of improper storage of important documents. Tax files, birth and death certificates and other documents waterlogged from last month’s record rainfall may cost Smithtown hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore, officials said.
An estimated 301 boxes and 85 ledger books from the town clerk’s, assessor’s and comptroller’s offices were damaged in the Aug. 13 storm that dumped more than 13 inches of rain on parts of Long Island, said Smithtown Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski. Several inches of water flooded the basement areas where the documents were stored.
David Furlow has written about the great effort of Francisco Heredia, Team Leader of Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel’s Historical Documents Records Center, to preserve the important documents of the County’s and Houston’s heritage.
Furlow writes, “A little more than a decade ago, courthouse records with dramatic tales of Harris County’s history lay moldering like John Brown in his grave. An unmarked grave of docket sheets, judgments, orders, evidence and appeals, many dating back to the decade-long Republic of Texas, occupied a red brick building on a grubby corner of downtown Houston at the intersection of Texas and Austin. Climate control consisted of a single window-unit familiar to anyone who suffered through their buzzing, rattling and periodic breakdowns during the Fifties and Sixties. The acidity of paper, high humidity, the ravages of hurricanes and floods, the jaws of rats and roaches, and decades of neglect were reducing Harris County’s judicial history to fading stacks of confetti.”
Jeff Phillips discovered a big pile of funky-smelling Eastman Kodak boxes containing dozens of projection trays filled with Kodachrome slides at a consignment antique shop near St. Louis. The 30 boxes contained about 1,100 slides. Only two of the slides were labeled. One said “Edna” and another was labeled as “Harry, 1958.” Those are clues but do not provide much to go on. Jeff decided to identify the people in the slides. Jeff then embarked on a crowdsourced search to identify the people in the photos by using social media. He received hundreds of suggestions from Facebook users.
Another huge loss for genealogists and historians: Property deeds, birth and marriage certificates and many other vital records dating back to 1795 were destroyed when most of the Hancock County Courthouse in Sparta burned down early Monday.
The fire broke out around 3 a.m. on Monday, August 11. When fire crews arrived, the building was engulfed in flames. The cause of the blaze is unknown. The building and its contents appear to be a total loss.
I recently wrote (at http://wp.me/p5Z3-As) an article about a person who damaged tombstones in a Tennessee cemetery by using a wirebrush to scrape the stones, making the letters more visible. Of course, it also created irreversible damage in the process.
Newsletter reader “ljellis2000″ now has posted an update: the culprit has been found, arrested, and charged with a felony offense. The man reportedly said, “… that he did not realize his actions were causing any harm.”
Here is a sad bit of news: A man is suspected of damaging several historic graves with a wire brush recently at the New Providence Presbyterian Church on Stoney Point Road in Surgoinsville, Tennessee. He apparently used a wire brush to make the engravings on the tombstones easier to read. Now here is the worst part: he was “cleaning” the tombstones so that he could take pictures to be posted on Find-A-Grave.com!
On July 15, church committee member Bill Davidson reported to the Surgoinsville Police Department that several tombstones had been “scrubbed” — possibly with a wire brush — causing damage to the old stones. The dark stain that builds up on tombstones over time was scrubbed clean in streaks over the engravings, and in some cases the engravings were rubbed almost smooth — to the point that the words are no longer legible. Davidson stated that some of the damaged tombstones date back to the 1700s, and some belong to Civil War veterans.
Now, in a regionwide scavenger hunt, James Fenimore Cooper Jr. and Margaret Bendroth are rummaging through New England church basements and attics, file cabinets, safes and even coat closets, searching for records of early American life. The historians are racing against frequent church closings, occasional fires, and a more mundane but not uncommon peril: the actual loss of documents, which most often occurs when a church elder dies and no one can remember the whereabouts of historical papers. The records, especially those that are not bound into books, are often in poor shape.
I have recently been scanning genealogy books so that I can “downsize” into smaller living quarters. As I move closer to retirement, I realize that someday I will move to smaller living quarters without room for all the books and magazines I have accumulated. I won’t even have room for the required bookshelves. Also, there is no way I can jam another book into the over-crowded bookshelves I already own. The answer seems obvious: digitize the books! Thousands of books can be stored in a very small computer or even in a tablet computer or a flash drive.
The problem is that my progress to date has been slow. Scanning a book is a tedious process, and I haven’t completed the scanning of very many books. One online service promises to do the job at a modest price: one dollar per 100 pages. The same service will also scan documents, photographs, business cards, and even the old greeting cards from relatives that I have been saving all these years.
Which is better for long-term digital image preservation: TIFF or JPEG or PNG images?
The Still Image Working Group within the Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (FADGI) recently posted a comparison of a few selected digital file formats. These are sometimes called target formats: they are the output format that you reformat to. In this case, the article compares formats suitable for the digitization of historical and cultural materials that can be reproduced as still images, such as books and periodicals, maps, and photographic prints and negatives.
The report is available in two parts. The first article at http://goo.gl/ZeBuQa provides background information and describes the tried-and-true uncompressed TIFF format. The second article at http://goo.gl/Ch5d8y describes the advantages and disadvantages of JPEG-2000, and PNG.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell got a firsthand look Thursday at the effect of climate change on ever-receding Jamestown island, concluding that America’s first permanent European settlement is clearly vulnerable to rising seas. Led by National Park Service rangers, Jewell trekked around the island, where some sections now lie beneath the James River, and heard of the devastation in 2003 when Hurricane Isabel raked the low-lying landscape. The storm left many parts of the island underwater and destroyed thousands of artifacts retrieved from archaeological digs. Many are still being restored.
One of the big losses to genealogists and to many others occurred on July 12, 1973, when a fire destroyed many records at the National Personnel Records Center in Overland, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. The records storage facility was operated by the National Archives and Records Administration and housed military service records. The fire destroyed approximately 16 to 18 million official military personnel records. While that is a staggering number of records, it still represents only about one-third of its 52 million official military personnel files.
Sadly, the records had not yet been digitized for long-term preservation nor even copied to microfilm, the standard method of preserving paper documents at that time. The records existed only on fragile paper and were susceptible to fire, flood, mildew, and other dangers. The building was essentially a large warehouse, filled with filing cabinets. There were no firewalls or other fire-stopping devices to limit the spread of fire. No heat or smoke detectors were installed in the building, nor was there a fire sprinkler system to automatically extinguish a fire.
Fifteen-year-old Hunter Boyer has chosen a unique Eagle Scout project to benefit the past, present and future at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, USA. Boyer’s goal is to recruit enough volunteers to take photos of over 50,000 graves using the smartphone app BillionGraves.
Genealogists and anyone else interested in preserving cemetery tombstones and other objects exposed to the weather should become familiar with D/2 Biological Solution. It is useful for cleaning tombstones without causing any damage to the stone.
The solution is safe for use and does not harm the tombstone. Even the highly-respected Association for Gravestone Studies recommends the product in the organization’s FAQs (Frequently-Asked Questions) at https://www.gravestonestudies.org/knowledge-center/faq-s#faqnoanchor:
“Treat a wet gravestone with D/2 Biological Solution, scrub into a lather using a plastic bristle brush, and smooth the lather into the inscription to make the letters more readable. Afterward, rinse the stone thoroughly.”
Fred Kuplicki and about 40 Volunteers to Document about 9,000 Headstones in an east-side Detroit Cemetery
Fred Kuplicki is nearing the completion of a 23-year-old project, in conjunction with the Polish Genealogical Society of Michigan, to uncover, identify and compile a digital, photographic database of burials at the cemetery. He and about 40 volunteers are bringing their digital camera/phones to the cemetery to photograph about 9,000 headstones dating to the cemetery’s founding circa 1889. His meticulous research during that time, aided by a few other volunteers, has helped to recover lost records for burials spanning to the late 1880s.
You can read the details in an article by Patricia Montemurri in the LSJ web site at http://goo.gl/2iZcks.
Wouldn’t YOUR genealogy society like to undertake a similar project to benefit other genealogists?