SYRACUSE, New York—The Onondaga County Public Library and FamilySearch (online at FamilySearch.org), a nonprofit premier family history and records preservation organization, announced a joint initiative to digitally preserve 40,000 historic titles from the library’s collections and make them freely accessible online to patrons worldwide. Some of the titles are extremely rare—dating back to Colonial America. The digitization effort commenced this week.
Under the agreement, FamilySearch will digitally preserve over 40,000 historic titles from the Onondaga County Public Library’s collections and make them available to the library’s patrons worldwide for free at FamilySearch.org. The materials will be a tremendous resource for anyone researching local history or genealogical roots from the region. The digitized records will include published family histories, local and county histories, directories, locality records, school yearbooks, Bible records, personal journals published before 1920, and published cemetery records.
“Many of the items that will be digitally preserved are irreplaceable,” said Holly Sammons, the head librarian in the Local History and Genealogy Department at the library. For example, the library owns the only copy of an original journal kept by a Revolutionary War soldier. Another treasure to be digitized is a set of genealogical records collected by a woman who retired from the Census Bureau about 1930. “She knocked on doors in the western part of Onondaga County, collecting family bible records and journals, asking questions, and gathering family history records. The library also has a collection of obituaries from 1860 to 1980 from the Syracuse and the Central New York area,” added Sammons.
Amazingly, more than 130 years ago, an Onondaga County librarian had the vision to begin acquiring and carefully preserving unique records in the Syracuse Library’s archives. This collection would eventually become the Local History and Genealogy Department of the Robert P. Kinchen Central Library, a member of the Onondaga County Public Library System (OCPL). Today, the department is a renowned resource for researchers looking for historic materials from Onondaga County and New York State, as well as the New England States, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.
This project is of particular interest to FamilySearch because it both digitally preserves and significantly increases access to very rare New York and Colonial American records that are predominantly unavailable online today. FamilySearch will provide custom digital scanning equipment and trained volunteers to support the multiyear project—all at no cost to the library.
Onondaga County was in a pivotal position in New York State in the 1800s, as a key site on the route for westward migration. The building of the Erie Canal and the growth of the salt industry meant a large population lived in or traveled through the area during these years. Today, there are people throughout the world who will be able to trace their early New York and New England ancestry back through Syracuse and Onondaga County with help from the library’s records.
“It’s a truly incredible collection here. We have people come from all around the world to our library. The partnership with FamilySearch will enable us to make the collection available to anyone with Internet access. This is what we should be doing, making this collection more and more accessible,” said Sammons.
Not only will the partnership between the library and FamilySearch make these records more readily available, but it will also help protect the records against the wear and tear of physical use. Some of the records in the collection of the library are very old and can be easily damaged through handling. Digital access will safeguard the original copies.
Sammons points out that access to these records isn’t just about names and dates. Every day she witnesses those “Eureka” moments. “It’s wonderful when people finally find a record they’ve been searching for, often for years. It’s a visceral emotional response when they see their great-grandmother on a census for the first time, for instance. It’s making a connection with someone long gone who is still a part of you. Everyone I’ve seen do it is affected in the same way. It’s as if it affects who you are, who you’ve been, and who you will be.”
The staff at Robert P. Kinchen Central Library invites patrons to visit the Local History and Genealogy Department in person, or online at www.onlib.org. Its newly digitized records will begin to be published online in the fourth quarter 2014. To search the digital books under this initiative or billions of historic records already searchable online by FamilySearch, go to familysearch.org.