HELENA — Family researchers have long used the Montana State Genealogical Library in Helena to flesh out the branches on their family tree.
The library is now working to have most of its collection available online for those interested in their ancestry.
Librarian Karen Huck said there has always been an interest from the public in genealogy, but it has seen a recent rise in popularity thanks in large part to DNA testing services.
“It’s the wave of the future,” said Huck. “The younger people aren’t coming in looking at books, they are using their computers. We want people to be able to use their computer at home and be able to read what we have.”
Huck was first interested in ancestry to find her grandfather, who Huck’s mother never knew. She still hasn’t located him but hopes by making the collection available online it might help others.
While the Montana State Genealogical Library only takes up a small corner of the Lewis and Clark Library, they have a vast collection of dense tomes that need to be digitized.
The feat is only possible thanks to a partnership with Family Search, a nonprofit organization that offers free online genealogical records that provided a book scanner and full-time volunteers.
The process of digitizing is expected to last through October 2020, but once completed those records will be preserved online and help people in Montana and abroad discover more about their family roots.
The volunteers working on the digitization say the process is time consuming. Each book, some of which are a thousand pages or more, needs to be scanned page by page.
“Then we audit the book twice, so we look at every page again twice to make sure that we didn’t skip a page, that a page isn’t blurred and to make sure we didn’t cut something off,” said Andy Fox, Family Search volunteer. “It’s a very tedious hands on process to make sure all the information is correct.”
Fox, along with his wife and daughter, are spending a year in Helena from their home in Arizona to work on the project. During the process, the team has found some true treasures and can’t wait for it to be available to everyone.
“There’s one piece of this collection called the Helen Sweet collection,” said Fox. “This is a lady that lived in Butte. She did a bunch of original research and assembled her notes into notebooks and assembled those into 150 volumes.”
Helena Sweet had no children, but her work has ensured her family will be remembered.
A note at the beginning of her collection reads: “I leave no one to mourn me. Though I have passed this way. But I shall, as days go by, be counted in a way for having lift a record of those who were. I shall leave in memory of those who came and passed before me.” - Helen Louisa Sweet, 4th December 1983.
The Fox family also discovered a book in the collection titled “Descendant of Thomas Fox of Concord, Massachusetts” which showed how their own family came to the United States.
“That’s just a treasure for somebody like me,” added Fox.
This digitizing of the collection will allow the library to reduce their collection size once they move during the remodeling of the Lewis and Clark Library. Huck says none of the books will be destroyed, and she is working with other genealogical societies to find homes for the one that are no longer needed.
The project will also allow the Genealogical Library to be open during regular library hours and dot be behind a locked gate. However, the library will remain a research only library.