A group of Duxbury residents is working to digitize all of the historic archives in Duxbury, to create what they call a “digital repository” full of information for those curious about their ancestry and genealogy.
The idea for the Duxbury Online Historic Archives started with the Duxbury Senior Center Genealogy Club. The club, which started about eight years ago, meets regularly on Tuesdays. During their meetings, seniors work with volunteers to do research on their genealogy.
As the Club spent more time searching for relatives and family information online, they came across the Town of Sudbury Web site, which has a link to the Sudbury Archives, a site that allows visitors to explore town documents, such as town and church records, as far back as the early 1600s.
“We started to rely on the Sudbury Archives quite a bit to help us find information for the seniors,” said Pam Smith, one of the volunteers at the Geneology Club. “When we saw how successful the Web site was, we thought it would be useful to have a similar site for Duxbury.”
Smith and Joanne Moore, Director of the Senior Center, used the Sudbury Archives as a template for what they hoped to create for Duxbury and met with then Town Manager Richard MacDonald in 2012. After receiving his support to move forward with the project, Smith and Moore gathered a group of people representing various organizations around town, including the Duxbury Free Library, the Historic Commission, and the Senior Center, to discuss the idea and garner support for the project.
After some of the organizations decided to jump on board with the project, they met with Laura Lowell, manu- script processor at the Mas- sachusetts Historical Society. Lowell started working on digitizing documents back in the early 1990s, and had some advice for the group as they got started.
“She did it all before you could scan things in easily, so she had a lot of good ideas for how we can best utilize volunteers,” Smith said.
The formal group of people working on the project now includes Matthew Vigneau, of the Alden Kindred of Ameri- ca, Inc.; Tag Carpenter, from the Duxbury Historic Commission; Terry Reiber, who specializes in Web site design and software; Judy Flynn, from the Duxbury Genealogy Club; and Smith. Last year, the group approached Town Clerk Nancy Oates to see what documents she thought should be the first to be scanned in and transcribed. Oates suggested scanning in the family records, which is a 456-page book. Without funds to pay for scanning in the record book, the group looked to Weston Repographics to donate their scanner, which they did willingly. Because Smith and Flynn, the two who spend the most time scanning in documents, have full time day jobs, they had to scan the documents after work and in their free time. It took two months to scan the entire book.
“It is a very time consuming process,” Smith said.
Getting the archives online involves scanning each page of a document or book, editing the image of each page to fit Web site specifications, tran- scribing the handwriting and identifying keywords for the search engine. Because of the time consuming nature of the project, Smith said the group will be looking for volunteers to help scan and transcribe. The ideal volunteers, she said, are what she calls “junior seniors,” or those who have re- cently retired and are looking for something to do a couple of hours a week.
“The ‘junior seniors’ are ideal because they are most likely familiar with computers and will pick up the process of scanning quickly, she said. “More importantly, they know how to read cursive handwrit- ing, which is vitally important for this project.”
A scanner for the archives project was approved by the 2014 Annual Town Meeting in March. Since the funds cannot be appropriated for the scanner until the new fiscal year begins in July, the group decided to do a “soft launch” of the archives Web site in March. Since that time, members of the group have added to the content on the site, including First Parish Church Family Records, Duxbury Historical Commission property surveys and historic documents filed with the Town Clerk. Without any publicity about the site, readership has grown to 1,000 page views each day.
“It’s remarkable,” Smith said.
When purchased, the scanner will reside at the Town Clerk’s office, because town records are not allowed to leave Town Hall. Volunteers will visit Town Hall to help scan and transcribe the documents. Those who are interest- ed in volunteering should contact Pam Smith at ppasmith@ verizon.net.
Smith said having a digital repository for the town’s records is an important part of helping people who cannot travel to the Town Hall or who may not live in town.
“The more research you do, the more you learn about people,” she said. “You start to learn their story: where they lived, when they went to school. What we are doing is giving people an opportunity to fill in their story.”
The group hopes to have other organizations in town jump on board as the site grows larger, to help with digitizing collections and more documents. While several organizations in town collect the physical artifacts both from the famous “ship-building era” and the lesser-cataloged Neolithic time in Duxbury, the Online Historic Archives does not collect the items, it simply posts images of the items for researches to easily access.
Anyone who has documents or objects they think will be of interest to the Duxbury Online Historic Archives can visit duxburyhistoricarchives. org or the Town Web site, town.duxbury.ma.us,click “About Duxbury” and “His- toric Archives.”