Preserving the past on computer

Published 7:37 pm Friday, July 19, 2019

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer

Thanks to an anonymous donation of $1,000, the public library in Smithfield has begun transferring its archives into a digital format. 

In the effort to digitalize, the library acquired a Lenovo IdeaPad 5340, an Epson Perfection V600 Photo scanner and a five-terabyte portable hard drive with the donation money, according to Library Manager Tracy Frie. 

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The archives include business documents, family records stored on Bible pages that were torn out and decades-old factoids scribbled on notebook paper — all donated in their original forms to the library over the years, said Frie. 

Conducted by Smithfield resident and amateur genealogist Christopher Gwaltney, the conversion process involves scanning and uploading the documents to the Lenovo computer and storing them on the hard drive. Frie said that the plan after the digital copies are created is to develop an online database so that anyone can look up genealogical records via the library’s website from the comfort of their own home. That being said, she didn’t have a firm completion date. 

During a demonstration of the digitalization process, Gwaltney said that once documents are viewable over the computer, less people having to handle the physical documents and they will be preserved longer.

Having the documents digitized will also allow those interested to print out the documents and have their own physical copies, said Frie. 

The papers are organized by last name in a file cabinet at the library, which is how they will be once they’re converted, said Gwaltney, adding that since young people are more familiar with computers, having the information in digital format would build interest among that group. 

The genealogy room at the library is a popular spot, said Frie, with one visitor, Nancy Prisk, in town from Maine on a research assignment. 

As Gwaltney was converting documents on Thursday, Prisk stopped in to search through the paper archives, looking for the name ‘Lewis Wright’ or any connection to him. 

With over 45 years in family history research, Prisk has been visiting towns and cities in Hampton Roads to gather historical data about Wright, who she said was born in Suffolk and lived from 1830 to 1925. Prisk said that Lewis worked for the family of famed American painter Winslow Homer during his lifetime, and that she was in the area since Wright was born in Suffolk and has genealogical ties to the surnames ‘Spratley’ and ‘Green.’