Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

A Family History Mission: Books and More Books

Check Register from Probate Record, Maryland State Archives
No. 55

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission James Tanner" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them or click back through all the posts.

Our calling as Senior Missionaries is as Record Preservation Specialists aka Camera Operators. We spend the majority of our time each weekday digitizing books in the Maryland State Archives. We digitize a lot of books. For example, this past week, my wife Ann and I digitized 23 books. That was 7431 images. The number of images we can do in a week of working at the camera depends on the condition of the books and whether or not there are any significant interruptions such as running out of books to digitize or having days off due to the Archives being closed or other reasons. This week was above the average number of images per day which runs around 1200 or so.

Much of the time we are working at the camera is spent setting up the camera and opening new files for the books on the computer, closing and saving files, and other overhead types of activities. This check register was part of a probate file submitted to the court as a record of the checks written by the court clerk in probate cases. It is a valuable record because it lists the names of the probate cases and gives a date when the checks were written. There is also a short description of the reason for the check. This was a very difficult book to digitize.

We take turns working at the camera and preparing the documents for digitization. We work about 40 hours a week, from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm, five days a week.

The books we are working on are Maryland Orphans Court Records. The Orphans Court in Maryland handles probate and guardianship matters. The main records are kept in "books" of bound blank paper. The older books have hand-lettered pages. Beginning in the 1800s, the records had preprinted numbered pages. The books are different sizes but the most common ones are about 26 inches by 12 or 14 inches and weigh about 10 to 15 pounds. In the late 1800s, some of the books had removable pages on metal post bindings. These books weigh over 20 pounds and are difficult to maneuver. But the ones with removable pages are very easy to digitize because we can do single sheets of paper.

The biggest challenge in digitizing the books is that they are three dimensional and the camera is trying to take a photo of a flat page. The books do not lay flat, so we spend a lot of time trying to get the books as flat as possible. We also need to mask off parts of the book so the camera can focus on the pages. You can see the masks in the photo above. The program used to digitize the books has been developed by FamilySearch and it ignores the "black" areas. So we can use black foam or cardboard to mask off areas we do not want the camera to see.

The work is work. We do get tired. But time passes quickly while we are busy working and every week seems to fly by. It helps to have a firm belief and understanding of the Plan of Salvation that helps us to understand that families are eternal. As we digitize the records, we often think about all the people that will be found because of our work and will be enabled to receive the ordinances of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I also spend time doing research on my own family and on the families of those around me who need help doing genealogical research. This makes my days full and meaningful. Every workday brings new books and new challenges. In just a few days, we will have been on our mission for five months.

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