CORBIN — By Bobbie Poynter / Features Editor
While researching an obituary for someone at the Whitley County Public Library, Patricia Jones, president of the Whitley County Historical and Genealogical Society, ran across a one-line news brief in an 1891 newspaper that read “The wife of Terrell Rains died Thursday of typhoid.”
Terrell Rains happened to be Jones’ great-great grandfather. Everyone in her family had always been led to believe their great-great-grandmother had died in childbirth.
With the aid of a perpetual calendar, Jones was able to determine the exact date of her great-great grandmother’s death, which had never even been carved into her tombstone.
Newspapers have long been a great source for recording history, and keeping that history protected has always been a daunting task. Until now, the only access the public had to newspapers published long ago has either been by looking through musty old newspaper pages or physically visiting the nearest library and using its microfilm reader to dig up and sort through old issues.
Not an impossible task, but clearly inconvenient, and extremely time-consuming.
However, today with the help of the PowerScan 2000 Microfilm Scanning Workstation, which combines both the microfilm reader and an interactive computer workstation, information on even the oldest microfilms in storage can be scanned and digitally converted into modern day pdf’s — or “searchable” documents.
Greg Meadors, director of the Whitley County Public Library, realized the importance and value such a program would have on the library after watching a demonstration of the program.
“We’ve been wanting to do this for several years,” said Meadors.” “This year it happened to work out. The stars just kind of aligned themselves and the funding was made available.”
The equipment and program cost around $15,000, including the machine, the licensing for software, computer and larger format screen.
“We’ve had the program now for about a year,” he said. “So far we’ve been using it as a microfilm reader. We have converted a few test pages, though, and they looked pretty good. It’s really pretty easy. A lot of it mimics what we were doing with the old machine. There are just a lot more options in what you can do with this one.”
Pat Jones is excited about the ScanPro 2000 and the endless possibilities of the application.
“There is just so much we can do with this,” she said Jones. It’s like opening Pandora’s box, but everything that comes out of it is good.
“The obits are like poetry,” she added, as she and Meadors sat looking at a Corbin newspaper page from the early 1900s, and the obituary of a small girl came to life.
Even more than old newspapers have been saved to microfilm over the years. Library personnel found an old flyer of one of the first Old Fashioned Days of Williamsburg. Surprisingly, one of the big events was “Husband Calling.”
Meadors himself accidentally came across a late 1930s newspaper story about his own grandfather, Lloyd Meadors, when he was kicked in the head by a mule. This was a family story of which either he nor his father at heard.
“When I got back home, I found out from my grandmother that everybody thought his (grandfather’s) eye was going to pop out of his head,” Meadors laughed. It said in the article, “The young fellow was resting at home, and if he didn’t improve in a few days, they were going to take him to the hospital.”
“After reading the story, my dad and I suddenly realized we were lucky to be here,” said Meadors.
All this came about simply because Meadors was looking up someone else’s obit.
Even though the daunting task of converting over 100 years of newspapers has yet to begin in earnest, Meadors is already looking into the future of the program.
“We have a few rolls of old court documents we’re looking to get digitized,” he said. We’re also planning on getting a large format scanner that will do 11 x 17 size so that we’ll also be able to scan larger ledger sized documents.
“The good news is that once a page has been converted, it should never have to be done again. Our plan is to start with an external hard drive and save whatever we can,” he explained. “This way any number of copies can be made and shared with the host newspapers, libraries, and more by simply uploading the pdf’s to the web.”
“This is all like a treasure that has been hidden away for many years,” said Jones. “And now suddenly we’re going to be able to open up our own little pieces of history to the rest of the world.”
First things first.
Both the Whitley County and Corbin Public libraries have begun collaborating on a conversion project so that both libraries will be able to convert their microfilms simultaneously.
“It’s definitely important to protect the history,” said Brenda Huff, director of the Corbin Public Library. “And even more important is to be able to share it with the world. We can’t wait to get started.”