It’s morning at the Hall of Records in Annapolis, Maryland and new experiences await. I open Box #65, Carroll County Wills, and peer inside. Tri-folded records dating from the early 1900’s are crammed together, forming a wall of data. They document the tangible assets of mortality: watches, jars of fruit, sausage stuffers, plows, horses, carriages, beds, quilts. And they reveal the intangible drama of mortal relationships: one son is bequeathed the entire farm; another, a table and four chairs.
Documented are lifetimes of sweat and toil, dreams realized or abandoned, families strong or fragmented. In the end, these simple documents are signed, sealed and delivered to the Office of the Register of Wills. From there, they are sent into silent storage, most never summoned to reveal their contents.
For the first time in 100+ years, these documents are literally being brought into the light. They are being processed by teams of enthusiastic volunteers who prepare them for imaging and preservation by removing fasteners, flattening papers and storing them in archival folders. Volunteers are also creating an index, thus making the collections name-searchable. Within a few months, these documents will be available online, for free, at FamilySearch.org. They will also be searchable on computers at the Maryland State Archives and the Office of the Register of Wills.
Each record collection holds its own secrets and surprises. Some will provide the hammer that breaks through a genealogical brick wall. Some will shed light on an estranged ancestor. Some will provide the intimate details that add “flesh and bones” to a family history. Others will enable historians to effectively document places and people. But all will be treasured by those who seek them.
It is both humbling and exciting for us to realize that we are the last human beings who will ever handle and read the original documents. After digitization, they will be preserved in archival folders and returned to permanent storage. Without our FamilySearch-Maryland Archive team of devoted volunteers, these Will and Probate records would remain electronically inaccessible. A huge debt of gratitude is extended to those who give of their time to prepare and preserve our records, thus benefitting historians, descendants, and researchers for years to come.
Unexpected rewards come, often serendipitously, when we selflessly give of our time to help others. While waiting for a training session to begin, two volunteers began a simple conversation that turned into a life-altering event-as they exchanged family names, they discovered that they were related! Two more volunteers learned that they had worked for the same government agency, during the same timeframe, in the same location just two floors apart, and that they knew the same people. Yet, it was not until they were willing to volunteer that they became acquainted.
All of us are excited to be part of this important and historic project. If you live in the Washington, D.C. area, please consider joining us. For more information, read our blog, or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carol Kostakos Petranek is a Co-Director of the Washington DC Family History Center, a Citizen Archivist at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and a FamilySearch Volunteer Coordinator.
FamilySearch has been collecting and preserving records for over 100 years. From the earliest days of document collection, to microfilm, and now to digitization, records are made available worldwide through over 4,500 Family History Centers. With today’s technology, images are digitized and uploaded to make them searchable by anyone with internet access on a computer, tablet, or smartphone.