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St. Clairsville Library Preserves Obituaries In Digital Archive

Group of volunteers scan 60,000 clippings

Photo by Robert A. DeFrank St. Clairsville District Library Director Doug Walsh and staff thank volunteers Friday, who gave nearly 500 hours to digitize obituary records dating from 1984 to make for more convenient searching online.

Thanks to the work of volunteers, more than 60,000 obituaries from more than 30 years have been digitized at the St. Clairsville District Library

Volunteers digitized a total of 60,575 obituaries dating from 1984 to 2018, of people who lived in the St. Clairsville area, and were recognized Friday with a thank-you celebration from the library. The library staff is in the process of scanning the 2019 obituaries.

“We had 25 volunteers and (490) hours were donated toward this project,” Library Director Doug Walsh said. He said obituaries were taken from all the local Belmont County newspapers.

“There’s probably four or five papers they were taken from. … The library staff have been clipping them from the newspapers for that long and filing them alphabetically in our card catalogues. We have two large card catalogues, but we were running out of space.”

Walsh said the library started to a volunteer project to undertake the process of scanning the obituaries. The library asked for volunteers through its newsletter and Facebook page.

“They were digitized, and they’re going to be made available online … through the Digital Shoebox. Anybody can go to the digitialshoebox.org and search for family and local history,” Walsh said.

Information Service Supervisor Preston Tedrick said users can search for names, categories and phrases in the obituary.

He said the digitized records must still be catalogued by staff, which will be several months’ work. So far, obituaries of last names starting with letters A, B and C are available.

Walsh said the convenience would be valuable. Researchers and genealogists often make use of the information.

“Especially when there were oil and gas people trying to investigate who owned the land, but we often get people just seeking their family histories and coming to the library to ask for family obituaries,” Walsh said.

Tedrick said there was an average of 45 volunteer hours per month and 11 per week.

One of the volunteers was Kristina Estle, who serves as director of the Underground Railroad Museum in Flushing.

“I thought it would be an interesting skill to learn,” she said. “It’s something that I’m going to need to do out there (in the museum) as well. … It was a pretty simple process, and once you got a handle of how to use the program in the computer it was very simple.”

Special recognition went to the top five volunteers who contributed a total of 266 hours, 54 percent of the total workload. These were Katie Tomazoli of St. Clairsville, Barb Dlesk of St. Clairsville, Joanne Callahan of Martins Ferry, Toni Timko of St. Clairsville, and Mariette Webster from Belmont. Timko, the overall top volunteer, gave 69 hours.

“We enjoyed doing it,” Callahan said.

“It’s sort of surreal to see all of the obituaries in … the surrounding area. It was kind of sad some days for me, when you came across someone that you knew,” Dlesk said.

“You learned a lot of about some of the people,” Toni Timko said.

Belmont County Eastern Division Judge David Trouten, who also serves as a library trustee, read a proclamation of appreciation.

In the future, Walsh said other volunteer projects might include scanning historical documents, the St. Clairsville City Charter, and information about the Great Western Schoolhouse on National Road.

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