Local volunteers to be recognized for work transcribing county’s ancient records

Alchua County photographing all known graves for h
Alchua County photographing all known graves for h

Jim Powell Jr., ancient records coordinator for Alachua County Clerk of Court, is shown in this file photo from Nov. 26, 2014.

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, March 28, 2014 at 8:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 28, 2014 at 8:46 p.m.

While visiting Alachua County's archive of ancient records to research his family tree in 1998, Jim Powell crossed paths with a dusty book from the 1840s.

The archaic handwriting and decayed pages were hard to read, so he offered to transcribe pages of it in his free time. The construction worker was eventually offered a job at the ancient records archive as its keeper.

Since then, Powell and a team of volunteers have transcribed countless pages of old records dating back to the early 19th century, putting them on the Clerk of Court website in an easily searchable format.

In the past 60 days, he and his volunteers, six or seven of whom consistently offer their time, have uploaded 450 pages, some of them containing long-forgotten tales of the county's history.

Now, Powell is challenging local historical and genealogical societies with a competition to see who can copy the most pages in 60 days, starting on May 1.

"What we do brings the history of our community to light," Powell said.

The ancient records project will receive recognition from the Florida State Genealogical Society today at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center on 34th Street, where the society will present the 2014 Preservation Award in honor of J.K. Irby, Powell and the volunteers in their effort to safeguard the area's history.

Karen Kirkman, who is one of Powell's volunteers and has transcribed nearly 6,600 pages, will be getting her own award at the ceremony.

"I think the recognition for all the volunteers who participate is a wonderful thing," Kirkman said. "I hope it inspires other people to make use of their time to help us out."

Powell wanted to get entire organizations involved, and he thought a challenge was the best way to do it, he said.

He hopes groups such as the Alachua County Historical Trust, the Alachua County Historical Society and perhaps the Gainesville chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution will be interested.

The people digging through the county's records might find more than just marriage licenses and deeds, Powell said. They could find fascinating stories, such as the tale of Joseph Valentine, a free black man who sold himself into slavery.

For now, Powell is only offering the satisfaction of winning for the whichever organization transcribes the most pages.

"We're starting off with bragging rights," he said. "We'll see if we go beyond that."

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