The Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library System reached a milestone late last week after Sylvia Moore entered the 100,000th obituary into an index and genealogy database.
A small group of library staff, including employees from the Watson Chapel and White Hall branches and college age volunteers, have been working "full-force" on the project for two and a half years since Dave Burdick, director of the library system, made it a top priority. Currently, the library has 25 years of obits and death listings entered into the genealogy database, but library workers still have 91 more years to go. The listings date back to 1887, according to Blankenship, and include information from The Commercial, the Pine Bluff Daily Graphic, Pine Bluff News and the Pine Bluff Press-Eagle.
The long-term project could take five to six years to complete.
"Ah, it's just a lot of work," said Jana Blankenship, the library system's reference manager. "When we finish a year it gives you a real sense of accomplishment." Library staff and volunteers enter the person's name, the obituary's date and the newspaper page, according to Blankenship.
Typing in hundreds of the names isn't always the hard part. "The hardest thing is reading microfilm," Blankenship said of the old newspaper issues preserved on the film rolls. "We encourage breaks especially when they are taking things off of microfilm," Blankenship said. Staff members usually spend four hours a day pulling obituaries microfilm and typing the information into the database, Blankenship said.
This is the first year for the work to also be accessible online to anyone, Blankenship said. About 600 online searches were tallied for the genealogy site last month, she said. "It's nice to know that you're doing something positive and it's going to have a lasting effect," Blankenship said. "As a researcher, it's not there just for you. (It is) open for anyone to look at. It's there for everyone to see."
"One thing about genealogy to me -- it's a link to people's heritage," Blankenship said. "It's important to know where you come from and how you got there."
The listings are available online through the library's Web site at http://pbjc-lib.state.ar.us.