Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Douglas Payne Jr. has been spending this spring meeting and getting to know some long-lost relatives. And thanks to a Utah company, he has never had to leave his computer keyboard for his search.
Using Footnote.com, the Web site of Lindon-based iArchives, Payne discovered his roots by sifting through historical documents some of them hundreds of years old that have been made available through the site. He confirmed a link to a Revolutionary War soldier and ventured back nearly to the Jamestown settlement.
"I joined the Sons of the Revolution, and you have to be able to prove lineal descendents back to a soldier that fought in the Revolution, and they want documented proof," said Payne, who lives in Richmond, Va.
The Footnote.com site "is a huge time-saver," he said. "And you know when you're looking at actual documents that that's probably as good a proof as you'll possibly find."
Through an arrangement with the National Archives and Records Administration, iArchives is helping people gain access to original historical documents that sometimes can be as murky as tadpole water. And users can digitally search those records.
With about 38 million images online and about 2 million added monthly, the site lets people pore over rich troves of documents and photos. They include Civil War photos shot by Mathew Brady, who took his photographic equipment onto battlefields to capture the events. Site users can browse through court records from the trial that stemmed from the 1839 slave revolt aboard the schooner Amistad. Or they can look at John Wilkes Booth's diary, with a June 12, 1864, entry saying "our cause being almost lost, something decisive and great must be done."
The exploits of King George and Napoleon Bonaparte come alive in The Times of London issues from 1785 to 1820 were put on the Web site in November.
People also can search more quotidian documents, such as the 1860 U.S. Census, Civil War pension applications, and newspapers ranging in size from The Chicago Tribune to the Woonsocket (S.D.) News.
Footnote.com also has ways for users to chime in by creating their own "story pages" or an online scrapbook about history or by posting comments about history, relating their own discoveries or asking for help with research.
A special project, released in March, epitomizes the capabilities of Footnote, according to the company. Footnote and the National Archives worked to link an online photo of the Vietnam War Memorial with the military service records and casualty reports for each name on the wall.
Nearly 1,500 photos have been stitched together to create a single, searchable image of the monument, letting users look for names of relatives or friends and add photos, tributes, comments and stories about the people behind those names.
"It's an image with 58,200-something names, but it's also 58,200-and-something separate documents, because we can pull a name and add comments to it and add images to it," Wilding said. "A lot of veterans can't get back to D.C., but now they can find their friends."Justin Schroepfer, the company's marketing director and son of Vietnam veteran Richard Schroepfer, said the online wall "is a showcase for what you can do at the site. You can take a document, a photo or something like that, and now it becomes people. It becomes more rich."
Visitors to any of the 14 National Archive branches nationwide can get free access to millions of electronic versions of documents online at www.footnote.com. Folks elsewhere can subscribe to the Web site to see and search the documents through their own computers.
By the end of this year, the company, which offers about 1.2 million images for free, is expected to have a total of about 50 million images at its site, and 75 million by the end of next year.