Story Corps National Day of Listening 2011: Jim Powell Jr., Alachua County, FL Ancient Records
"We have a lot of history hidden in the dark between the pages of our record books. I really wanted to bring it out into the light where anyone can find it. We are accomplishing that." --- Jim Powell, Jr.
Since 1999, a small handful of dedicated volunteers have accomplished great things by digitizing 699 books (438,381 pages) of Alachua County Ancient Records which span the years 1837 to 1974, and tell the story of life in early Florida. Of the 438,381 pages of records, volunteers have transcribed and indexed more than 10,000 pages to make the scanned images searchable.
We spoke with Jim Powell, Jr., Coordinator of the project, about his experience, his success and the volunteers who make the project possible.
Marriage License, Cato Geary and Caroline Robinson
Alachua County, FL, 1870 
Please Click to View Larger Image
Q: Can you share a bit about the Alachua Ancient Records indexing project?
A: I was hired at the Clerk's Office to find the extent of the Ancient Records, to preserve them and to make them as accessible as possible. The Web seemed to be the answer.
Q: Were all 699 books digitized at once or did you add them over time?
A: They have taken many years. I did most of the digitizing. With the first marriage books the pages were reduced by a copier then I scanned them with a donated scanner. For awhile after that we used Official Records Plat Scanner on some of the books that had been taken apart to be microfilmed ages ago by the LDS.
Then we came up with a scanner that would almost scan the entire 12 by 18 pages. Then we graduated to a homemade digital camera shelf stand for the bound books and then a real camera stand from a grant that we were partners on with UF.
It has been a lot of trial and error and we continuously try to do better. Give me another couple of weeks and it will be 700 books.
Q: You've had incredible success at indexing a large number of records with a small handful of dedicated volunteers. About how many records have you indexed to date?
A: The total number of books online as of 11/23/2011 is 699 books. Total number of pages in those books is 438, 381. Of those pages 10,642 have been transcribed and are searchable.
We have all of our existing County Marriages indexed. Images and an index are online as part of Ancient Records from 1837 to 1974. From 1974 to the present is part of Official Records and it is not all imaged.
We have all of our existing County Commissioner's Minutes online. All of these records that were typed were OCRed and are searchable. The first three books have been transcribed by Volunteers and are searchable. Volunteers are currently working hard on the last seven books.
We have all of our existing Will Books online. They are all indexed.
We have deed books online from 1826 through 1957. They are indexed completely through 1928. From 1928 to 1957 is partially indexed and to back it up the images of the Deed index books are online.
We have 63 Mortgage Books online. They are not very well indexed. They weren't well indexed on paper.
We have 26 books online that don't fit one of those categories ... Book of Register, 1875 Census of Male Inhabitants, Record of Physicians Certificates, Lien Book & etc. Just over half of the 26 are completely indexed.
Our Deed Index Database has 216,733 entries. The Mortgage database has 21,534 entries.
Q: How many volunteers have worked on the project?
At the moment we have more active Volunteers than ever before. We have a Facebook page
to share and encourage each other. I now have between six and eight awesome Volunteers active each week.
Some in the past chose a project, completed it and went away. One of those did a majority of the Marriage index, Mike was from the state of Washington and still helped when he moved to Hawaii.
At times over the years, I had to work to encourage someone to do something and then for awhile it would be one or two active Volunteers for awhile. One past Volunteer said that she had no time to help, but would give it a try, Elaine had over 18,000 entries of which 854 were transcriptions.
One hundred and thirteen folks have at least tried. Most did not last a long time, but just about any help is good.
Q: What do you attribute your success to?
A: I volunteered to transcribe the hard way long before I was hired. It was something that I wanted to do. It is something that is rewarding, sometimes addictive. I make it easy to do through online forms and email contact any time that I can help out. Transcriptions are not immediately online, but I try to get them online as soon as possible.
Another huge factor in our success is Alachua County Clerk of Court J.K. "Buddy" Irby's passion and support for the Ancient Records.
All the Volunteers who have worked so hard over the years have made the project what it is today. I would like to thank our current active Volunteers:
- Karen Kirkman (2788 pages)
- Sharon Wheeler (1096 pages)
- Gail George (182 pages)
- Charlotte Vallellanes (354 pages)
- Kaley Behl (315 pages)
- Robert K. Kelley (34 pages)
- Melissa Hale (25 pages)
- Rachel Valencia (22 pages)
Q: What led you to undertake the project?
A: We have a lot of history hidden in the dark between the pages of our record books. I really wanted to bring it out into the light where anyone can find it. We are accomplishing that.
Q: Have stories emerged from the records you have indexed?
A: Lots of stories, Joseph Valentine that sold himself as a slave in 1862 in a Judgement Book is just one. He could read and write and later became a County Commissioner. I have lots of bits and pieces that I use as presentations on how and why we do what we do.
Q: How has the Ancient Records Project impacted your life?
A: It seems to be a part of about everything we do, except for when we chase birds with our Canons. It has given us a deeper understanding of history and roots that we can share.
Q: What else would you like for our readers to know?
A: As I tell anyone that is thinking about helping us, anything that you do for us is a forever type thing. It can be fun, rewarding, and at times a little addictive. It will give you something to talk about.
When folks track their ancestors they blaze a trail and see a lot of things that they may never be able to find again. We are making everything we find easier to find. Don't you want to leave your name in the public record in a GOOD way?
For More Information
Image Source Citation
 Alachua County, FL Marriage License Book A, Page 30
Image Online: http://www.clerk-alachua-fl.org/archive/AncientJ/FrontPage.cfm?BID=239&PID=030&SN=&GN=
Accessed 28 Nov 2011