Tom Bridges told the story: A Florida couple looking into family history had been trying to find one particular person for 25 years.
They found that person at the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence. That sort of thing happens a lot at the center, but that work relies on the steady efforts of volunteers here and elsewhere who, over time, are getting more and more information scanned so it’s at the fingertips of those who want to look.
“That’s why we do it,” Bridges said.
Tom and Shelia Bridges and their friend Rachelle Ireland have been making the long drive from Richmond, Missouri, every weekday. The Bridgeses are almost at the end of an 18-month commitment as Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints missionaries, helping at the library. Their task has been to scan records – books, mostly – so those records are digitized and therefore searchable online for anyone interested in genealogy.
“We try to do about 2,500 images per day,” said Cheryl Lang, director of the Genealogy Center.
FamilySearch, an LDS Church program, has 13 scanning sites across the country including the Genealogy Center. Since starting its partnership with the Genealogy Center nine years ago, 29 FamilySearch volunteers – most of them full time – have given 29,000 hours and scanned 2.5 million images. That’s put more than 10,000 books online. FamilySearch.org is free and open to anyone.
For its local effort, the Jackson County Historical Society this week is giving its community history project award to FamilySearch. The Historical Society’s annual dinner is Thursday. Other award winners are Wide Awake Films for last year’s documentary, “The American Artist: The Life and Times of George Caleb Bingham,” and “Kansas City: Our Collective Memories,” a recent book on various mementoes – connected to everything from baseball to politics to old buildings – collected by area residents.
“I think it’s critical. We couldn’t do it without the volunteers,” said Dennis Meldrum, FamilySearch partnership manager in Utah. He said the group’s first priority is to scan family histories, then local and county historical information, and he stressed that the group is exceedingly careful about observing copyright laws.
Shelia Bridges said she had been into genealogy on and off but that she and Tom jumped at the chance to volunteer at the Midwest Genealogy Center.
“This gets in your blood,” she said. “You want to do it.”
And the work has an enduring value, telling the story of those who came before us.
“We stand upon their shoulders,” she said.
It is painstaking work. Images are scanned, then that work is reviewed and carefully catalogued by other volunteers. The other day Tom Bridges was scanning a book, rich with pictures, about 19th century cattlemen in Kansas. Ireland was working on a collection, from the Joplin library, of 3x5 cards with birth, death, marriage and divorce notices from newspapers. The library is several years into scanning old Jackson County probate records
Or consider another project, scanning 1928 to 1956 Jackson County voter registration information. Those entries – name, address, age, race, place of birth, citizenship status, as well as years of residence in the state, in the county and in the voting precinct – could be invaluable for researchers.
Lang’s staff works with visitors to the library, and she doesn’t have the staff for scanning and indexing. And there are many, many old documents still awaiting attention.
“We need more volunteers,” Lang said.