One may ask what man does after he has conquered the frontier. Interestingly, he often looks back to see how it was done.
Locally, this attention to our early roots is taking an approach that project volunteer Joe Barreca said is the “new face of history.”
“When many of us learned history, it was canned and written down in certain boundaries approved by a publisher somewhere,” Barreca said. “But if we really start looking at the history of communities and individuals, we can get to the same place that highlights wars and economic booms, for instance.
“This approach is more engaging because history is always more interesting if you can connect to it as a person.”
Barreca said that when people can experience history by tracing back through their own roots, they are more likely to be enthusiastic about history.
However, accessing old documents and records that include the names of everyday people used to mean long hours in dusty records rooms. Now, it can be done online.
Historic records can be found online
This new accessibility to history is being expanded through projects like the Preserve America project that “encourages and supports community efforts to preserve and enjoy our priceless cultural and natural heritage.”
Preserve America is a government-sponsored grant program that helps underwrite projects that create a “greater shared knowledge about the nation's past,” while strengthening regional identities and preserving the country's cultural and natural heritage assets.
The Stevens County Preserve America group received an $86,000 matching grant in 2010 to create a digital archive of local history by working with area museums and local volunteers, also known as “history detectives.”
In order to receive the grant, the local group had to show they had the equivalent of $86,000 in financial support or volunteer hours.
Barreca said in the last two years the local group has digitized 11,500 images and is working on 1,500 more. The images that include historic documents imbedded with additional data, are available on the website www.crossroadsarchive.org .
“We worked with the local museums and paid them a curator fee in order to obtain these documents and turn them into digital images,” he said. “By putting these records online, people from all over the world can access our history and develop an interest in the area.”
Barreca said the digital archive on the website will likely be of the most interest to people who do genealogy searches, tourism development groups and museums.
“Once people know more about where they live, they take greater pride in it and are more willing to take care of it,” he said. “We know that 60 percent of our visitors to Stevens County came here because they are related to a resident.”
Dozens of local residents have dedicated time and effort toward the project, including a group of people that Barecca called the “$1,000 club.”
“We have a group of people that have dedicated the equivalent of $1,000 to the project, either through actual funds or donating time,” said Barecca at a volunteer appreciation dinner on April 28. Members of the “$1,000 club” included Jamie Brown, Jo Nullet, Lou Ann Atherly, Deborah Hansen, Tracy Rice, Margaret Johnson, Nettie LaDoux and Sue Richart.
To see the results of the project so far visit www.crossroadsarchive.org .