DIOCESE ARCHIVES SERVICES
Diocesan Archives Digitizing Church Records Services in Sacramento, CA
When the Boles Fire of 2014 destroyed 150 homes and eight commercial properties in Weed, California, in September 2014, it also destroyed a tremendous amount of recorded history. Two long-standing church buildings, Holy Family Catholic Church and Grace Presbyterian Church, which faced each other in Weed, were completely destroyed.
Consumed in the fire were the complete archives of both congregations: records of births, deaths, weddings, financial contributions and other historical happenings were lost forever. To make matters worse, Holy Family had also been storing the historical records of Holy Cross Catholic Church of Tulelake.
Scarcely a year later, Father John E. Boll, the Diocesan Archivist of the Sacramento Diocese, was contacted by Ron Alexander of Ricoh, who inquired as to whether the diocese had any interest in digitalizing the records of the Sacramento Diocese.
Digitizing Your Church Records - A Big Idea Whose Time Had Come
The first thing that came to Fr. Boll's mind was the lost archives of the Holy Family and Holy Cross churches. When he met with Ron Alexander to discuss the possibility, it quickly became apparent that the scope of such a project far exceeded the capabilities of Ricoh. Alexander was able to locate a digitization firm with the reputation of being able to deal successfully with large volumes of work, eRecordsUSA, in Fremont, California. Despite the size of the project, eRecords committed to undertake it.
There seemed to be two shared awarenesses as the concept of the project moved forward. One was a common recognition that it was a massive undertaking that involved gathering and transporting the priceless documents and then entrusting the huge task to eRecords.
And based on memories of the recent Boles Fire, the second awareness was the need to safeguard the records. Clearly, the task had to be accomplished. At the same time, the organization and the work were overwhelming.
Later in 2015, at the behest of Bishop Soto and the Presbyteral Council, and overseen by Fr. Boll, eRecords agreed to begin digitalizing the documents of one deanery, or group of parishes, per month.
This involved not only the work of digitalizing but also of gathering and transporting hundreds of thousands of documents. As a sort of trial run, the work began with the Siskiyou Deanery, which was the smallest in the diocese, rendered even smaller because two of its parishes, Holy Family and Holy Cross, had just lost their records in the Boles Fire.
The Work Commences
The team at eRecords was well-prepared and easily handled the initial documents ahead of schedule. Indeed Pankaj Sharma, the owner of eRecordsUSA, who was leading the digitizing work, finished the Siskiyou Deanery records so quickly that they decided to attempt the completion of not one but two deaneries a month.
Their work became much more complicated with the delivery of the next two sets of archives from the Shasta and Sutter Buttes parishes, 18 congregations. Ultimately it would take almost four weeks per deanery to get the work done. Somehow, though, the digitizers still managed to finish ahead of schedule.
The project was nervewracking for all involved, in part because the fragile documents had to be transported from the Sacramento Diocese to eRecords. The monthly back and forth deliveries between the parishes and eRecords in Fremont involved a 300-mile, five-hour one-way trip down Interstate 5. Once in Fremont, the eRecords team had to maintain the searchable, indexed order of the documents, made of up a wide variety of sizes, bindings, and conditions.
Between October 2015, and July 2016, all the archives of the Sacramento Diocese were digitalized, a 10-month process. Considering the age of the many of the documents and record books, some dating back to the 1850s, it’s all the more amazing that no harm came to any of the archives during transportation or the digitizing process itself.
The Completed Process
Before beginning the process, Fr. Boll could only estimate the number of documents and books that would have to be digitized for preservation. In the final analysis, 12 deaneries comprising 107 parishes, not counting the two parishes lost to the Boles Fire. The largest parish in terms of archives was the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento, with 13,500 pages of archives.
The largest deanery was the City deanery of Sacramento, with more than 57,000 pages. In total, the project digitized more than 325,000 documents. This amounted to the digitization of more than 1500 pages a day or approximately 190 pages an hour.
Following digitization, the original documents were all returned, first to the diocese offices, and then to each parish. This work was overseen by the deans of the diocese.
That eRecords was able to complete the work of digitizing such a vast amount of documents on time and without injury to a single page could be considered a miraculous accomplishment.
The Boles Fire, which burned for seven days, and consumed 479 acres, was not a particularly large conflagration in terms of the California wildfires. However, it was large enough to alert people to the need to preserve their most important records in places where no natural disaster could harm them.
Contact us today to learn more about our diocese archives services, Diocesan Archive Scanning, Digital Archiving Church Records, Digitizing Your Church Records, Scanning Diocesan Archives and how it can benefit you.
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