We believe that families can be together forever, that the bonds that we have on this Earth can extend beyond this life, so we just feel very strongly about connecting families and bringing them together. – John de Jong, FamilySearch’s field-relations manager for Ohio
MARIETTA, Ohio — On a recent afternoon, Dan and Carolyn Grammer stood amid the towering, dusty bookshelves in the attic of the Washington County Courthouse, eager to work despite the daunting task that confronted them.
The couple is among the volunteers who are indexing records that reach back to the 1788 settlement of the Northwest Territory. The records then will be photographed, digitized and made available online.
Common Pleas Judge Ed Lane said he has been trying to get the records preserved for two decades and moved forward last year with support from Clerk of Courts Brenda Wolfe and county commissioners.
Lane sought free assistance from the FamilySearch arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Grammers and other church volunteers went to work.
"I'm thrilled that we're finding these records," Lane said. "Hopefully, other counties will take advantage of this."
The church of Latter-day Saints, also referred to as the LDS church or the Mormon church, is known among family-history buffs as having some of the world's most- extensive genealogical records.
FamilySearch boasts 2.5 million rolls of microfilmed records in a vault near Salt Lake City, where the LDS church has its headquarters, said John de Jong, FamilySearch's field-relations manager for Ohio. More than 2 billion digital images and record indexes have been made available on the Internet.
Currently, the project has 275 camera teams around the world, de Jong said. The teams took 120 million pictures of documents in 2013 and work free of charge as part of church missions.
The attic of the Washington County Courthouse has a hallway and at least four rooms, with some shelves stretching to the ceiling. Documents are bound in books, packed in boxes, folded into paper packets, or wrapped in paper and tied with string.
Scattered throughout are loose papers that have strayed from more-secure storage spaces.
Among the stacks are Ohio Supreme Court records from the early 1800s, burial documents for Civil War soldiers, and accounts of coroner inquests. Quadrennial-enumeration books offer what appears to be a census of township residents.
Volunteers have come across gems that include a "quarter session" from 1788 that references the establishment of courts. Generals from George Washington's army were among the county's first officials.
Lane said he's most interested in preserving records from Washington County's first 100 or 150 years.
"You realize that, when you read these records, there's a spirit and a continuity to the American people ... that's timeless," he said.
For FamilySearch, the goal of making records accessible is to help people of all faiths research their family backgrounds. Such research carries added significance for LDS members, who can offer proxy baptisms to known deceased ancestors in an effort to allow them to spend eternity with relatives, de Jong said.
"We believe that families can be together forever, that the bonds that we have on this Earth can extend beyond this life, so we just feel very strongly about connecting families and bringing them together," he said.
Carolyn Grammer, of Marietta, volunteers at an LDS Family History Center in Parkersburg, W.Va., and jumped at the chance to help out at the courthouse. She said genealogy is "like a jigsaw puzzle," and she has been interested in it since she was in grade school.
Internet records, she noted, can speed up genealogical work by substantially decreasing the number of visits that family researchers have to make to courthouses and cemeteries to find information.
De Jong said FamilySearch often has projects in Ohio, including current efforts in Hamilton, Jefferson, Cuyahoga and Trumbull counties.
The Washington County project is "an interesting story just because of the nature of the records they have there, and Marietta and Washington County being so early in the Northwest Territory," he said. "The historical background was kind of unusual."
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com