WILMINGTON — David Richins since April has taken about 236,000 digital photos of old Clinton County Probate Court documents as part of work done largely by Mormons — the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) members.
And with the exception of Richins, who is a Mormon from Cincinnati contracted by the FamilySearch arm of the LDS church, the approximately 30 local Mormons who have worked on the project are unpaid volunteers.
Every morning, Richins calibrates the Nikon camera and gets to work. A software auto-crop feature makes the photographing go quicker.
“In some ways, it’s kind of simple, I guess you could say monotonous,” said Richins. Doing well on the job involves staying attentive, having documents straight and not crooked, keeping the pace (he gets paid by volume), and reviewing the images to make sure his hand isn’t in one, he said.
Every week he sends the hard drives to Salt Lake City where they immediately get audited for image quality and he receives an email whether they pass inspection. They are mailed in heavy-duty containers, padded on the inside.
His best estimate is there will be about 700,000 images scanned when the project is completed, probably in 2017.
The LDS church’s interest in family history “goes way back,” said Richins.
Dick Glaser and his wife Susan help coordinate the volunteer effort. Both belong to the Wilmington LDS church located on Wayne Road.
“We were asked by our branch president if we would do this, and we agreed,” Mr. Glaser said. The Glasers praised the Clinton County Genealogical Society, which along with the local LDS congregation has been a source of volunteers.
Mrs. Glaser said they see interesting things every time they work on the project at the Clinton County Records & Archives offices.
“We were just talking about how you kind of involve yourself and lose yourself in the lives of some of these people who have multiple records,” she said.
Kayla N. Harris, records manager and archivist for Clinton County government, said FamilySearch was interested in the packets containing probate court records because they have “tons of information,” including naturalizations, information concerning guardianships, estates, even receipts for tombstones.
She notes digitized images are a lot better than microfilm images which weren’t always as clear and sometimes something would be cut off.
Before Richins does his photographing, the volunteers take the documents out of packets where the fasteners include straight pins, different-looking staplers, as well as black, brittle, crusty rubber bands that sometimes have to be scraped off, Harris said.
Because the papers have been folded so long, they don’t lay flat which they need to be in order for them to be photographed. The volunteers gently do back folding, and also utilize a clothes iron to flatten, she said.
Eventually, the records will end up online at familysearch.org and Harris, as the local records custodian, will receive hard drives of the digitized images.
Unlike a similar website, FamilySearch is free, said Susan Henry, one of the local genealogical society volunteers.
“There’s a lot you can find on FamilySearch and it’s getting better all the time,” Henry added.
Harris said the digital preserving of the probate records and placing them online is something that, due to resources, would not get done were it not for the volunteers and Richins.
The original paper documents will not get discarded and are being inserted in acid-free folders.
Susan Glaser said additional volunteers from the community are welcome and a training session is “pretty brief and pretty basic.” The Clinton County Records & Archives’ office phone number at the County Annex Building, 111 S. Nelson Ave., is 937-383-3271.
Currently, volunteers are going through the probate packets for the H’s which may be the most common first letter of local last names in these historical records — not “S”. There are, said Harris, the Clinton County families of the Harveys, the Hadleys, the Hales ….
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768 or on Twitter @GHuffenberger.