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Volunteers assist in updating Missouri State Archives

Friday, May 13, 2011 | 5:40 p.m. CDT
Volunteer Dorothy Straider, 89, right, coaches Secretary of State Robin Carnahan on removing staples from World War II discharge papers at the Missouri State Archives in Jefferson City.

JEFFERSON CITY — They might be dirty, even singed by fire. They might be difficult for modern eyes to read, due to the heavy hand script. Sometimes, there are multiple copies and redundant information.

But within the document holdings of the Missouri State Archives are treasures waiting to be found.

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The first to find these historical gems probably will be volunteers, either those who come into the Kirkpatrick State Office Building to help preserve original documents or the e-volunteers who work from home to digitize records.

Next to see the saved yet unseen names, dates, places and events would be the archives staff, who relies on these volunteer hours to meet their ultimate goals of not only preserving Missouri's history, but making it accessible.

Those who benefit the most from the discovery, preservation and accessibility are the state's residents.

Through Missouri's Digital Heritage, the public has free access to whatever records the archives have online. And the rest of the archives holdings are available to the public at its Kirkpatrick Building location on West Main Street.

Missouri is one of only a few states that allow access to genealogical records for free, said John Dougan, state archivist.

But with the vastness of the record holdings, they would not be available to the public without the volunteers.

This winter using 275 e-volunteers, the 45,000 death certificates from 1960 were processed in only three days. To do the 1959 death certificates by hand took 50 days, Dougan said.

In addition to the expediency, the process saved time, money and errors.

"It was a huge success with a good mix of volunteers," Dougan said.

Some volunteers were disappointed that by the time they logged in to help with the death certificate project, it was completed, Dougan said.

Walter and Judy Germann live in Junction City, Kan. But her family is from Maries County and he used to be the postmaster in Vienna.

So the Germanns have enjoyed dedicating their time as e-volunteers for the archives to keep up.

The archive staff will mail the couple packets of documents, which they transcribe or otherwise prepare. And then they mail them back, and the process continues.

"We wish we lived closer so we could volunteer more," Judy Germann said. "I love to read the old records, to see what was going on, what people did and how things worked."

The Germanns were part of the three-day volunteer turnaround on the 1960 death certificates.

"There's a nice feeling to know you've accomplished something, and it's done, and it's there for people to see," Walter Germann said.

Death certificates and census information are the foundational records for genealogy and other research work.

Now, the volunteers are engrossed in sorting and conserving more than 200 boxes of World War II separation of service papers.

Each document must be handled separately — staples removed, unfolded, labeled in a folder and alphabetized.

"It's a massive project," Dougan said.

The hope is to have the project completed within a year, with about a dozen volunteers each day working on it. But more volunteers would reduce the time before these are available to the public, Dougan said.

Other projects volunteers have helped with recently include: Missouri State Penitentiary records, territorial and early state land records and scanning of photograph collections.

Lynda Stubblefield has volunteered at the archives for years. Before retiring from teaching, she would work eight hours a day, five days a week each July.

Now, she comes in three days a week. Currently, she's helping scan and process 35 millimeter slides from the Division of Tourism.

In the past, she did the same for Missouri Department of Transportation slides. And she's cleaned and summarized Missouri Supreme Court decisions and Civil War veteran and cemetery records.

"There will never be enough volunteers," Stubblefield said.

Beyond the records, other opportunities include serving as docents for the thousands of school children who visit in the spring or working with local records through the archives' Local Records Preservation Program.

"We have made tremendous gains," Dougan said. "We could not do this without them."


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