Acclaimed Records Project Celebrates Alachua County History

By on April 2nd, 2014
While transcribing for the Ancient Records Project, photographs are taken of each individual page or document before being digitized and transcribed onto the website.

Lawrence Chan / WUFT News

While transcribing for the Ancient Records Project, photographs are taken of each individual page or document before being digitized and transcribed onto the website.

After 15 years, thousands of transcriptions and nearly 200 years of history recorded, the Alachua County Clerk of the Court’s Ancient Records Project received national attention on March 29.

The project was awarded the Florida State Genealogical Society’s  2014 Preservation Award.

The ongoing project transcribes court records from the Alachua County Clerk’s office dating back to the 19th century. Those documents include marriage records, county commissioner minutes, mortgages, wills, deeds, probate records, land and more.

“My job was to find out what we had and then make it accessible,” said Jim Powell, the records coordinator. “We haven’t even come close to finishing.”

Powell, who began working on the project in 1999, said it has unearthed history and stories from the county’s past. The story of Joseph Valentine is just one example.

Valentine, a free African-American, sold himself into slavery only to be appointed constable after the Civil War and eventually elected as county commissioner.

The process of transcribing the records is a timely task that requires Powell to take page-by-page photos of historical documents.

Powell said the images are then digitized in an online form where he and a small team of volunteers transcribe and index the county’s history.

On average, he and his volunteers transcribe seven pages of documents a day. Of the half million pages of documents on record, Powell and his volunteers have digitized about 19,000 as of March 31.

According to Alachua County Clerk of the Court J.K. Irby, the county leads the state in making court records and county commission meetings available on the Internet.

Irby said Alachua County’s records date back to before Florida gained statehood in 1845. He said he wanted to digitize and make those records easily accessible to the general public.

“Jim and I teamed up on this about 15 years ago,” Irby said. “It was something he had an interest in and something I had an interest in, and we were able to get together and start working on it.”

Irby said he is happy to be preserving the history of Alachua County and notes the project has come as far as it has due to the dedication of the volunteers.

The award recognized the work of Irby, Powell and the project’s volunteers for their efforts in preserving, protecting and making historical records easily accessible.

The clerk of the court is the second organization to be awarded the society’s preservation award since the first was given in 2012.

According to Kearby Parker, the award chair, the sheer scale and size of the project merited the award.

“The amount of records that they have transcribed and digitized and posted to the web is huge,” Parker said.

The project is also notable for its direct collaboration between citizen volunteers and the county government in accomplishing its goals.

“Many areas have preserved and transcribed indexes of records on the Internet, but not to the scale of that the Ancient Records project has,” Parker said.


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