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Carnegie History Center working to digitize documents dating back to the 1830s

Volunteers say it’s an important way to continue connecting us with our history.
Published: Dec. 18, 2020 at 11:07 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 19, 2020 at 9:58 AM CST
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - The Carnegie History Center in Downtown Bryan is working to make their historical documents digitized after familysearch.org sent volunteers to make that a possibility.

Rachael Altman works as the library’s branch manager. She has been going through documents that date back to as early as 1838.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled to have them here, and they are digitizing documents that not only are important to the Brazos Valley, but they are globally important to genealogical research as well as historical research,” said Altman.

Michael and Ruth Bower of College Station are volunteers through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church’s connection with familysearch.org made this all possible.

It may not look like much but we are BEYOND EXCITED!!! Familysearch.org is here digitizing our Brazos County District...

Posted by Carnegie History Center on Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The documents go through a process of first taking them out of their original boxes and making sure they are protected. They are kept under very specific conditions to make sure they do not get damaged. During the entire process, volunteers are wearing gloves.

Altman says this preservation work is an important step toward continuing to connect to our history.

“It’s not just people passing away, or estate business, but day-to-day businesses too. There was one that I came across, and it said, ‘your cow ate my grass, and so you’re going to pay me for that,’ And I was like ‘oh, that’s court room drama for you, even in the 1860s!” said Altman.

Once ready, volunteers take the documents over to a machine with a camera. The documents are laid flat, pressed down by a piece of glass and a snapshot is taken.

“We ship that off to Family Search in Utah, and they go through and they evaluate it and make sure everything is in focus, and that we haven’t really messed up stuff. Then once they’ve done that, they pass it onto their processes which extract names and things like that,” said Michael Bower.

Processes like this are used for other organizations as well to tie documents, names, and information to family history when people search for it. With many online genealogy websites that contain documents just like these, Altman hopes they can help tie someone back to a history they’ve never known.

One document in particular stood out to Altman. She says she came across a receipt of an exchange of a man named Jack, who was a slave in Brazos County, and was being given to another person in exchange for a debt.

“We are hoping to find evidence of someone’s great, great-great-grandfather, and it’s incredibly important to track those documents in particular because you have underrepresented populations in these historical documents, and that’s a gateway to track Jack and help Jack’s descendants find him,” said Altman.

The work being done at the Carnegie is expected to take months and will be available to the general public once indexed by Family Search.

“It gives you the connection you need to feel like you belong and everybody wants to feel like they belong to something,” said Altman.

The Carnegie is also looking for anyone who may have any historical documents, newspaper clippings, letters, or photos that they could digitize to add to the batch. There is no need to donate them. Volunteers can digitize them and they can then be returned.

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