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Bringing history to life

Lindon company's site takes users to original sources

Published: Sunday, June 15 2008 12:00 a.m. MDT

But don't think it will run out of new material anytime soon. "The National Archives has 9 billion records," said Footnote.com chief executive officer Russell Wilding. New documents are being made available constantly, including census details that are released 75 years after being compiled.

In addition to the National Archives, other content partners are FamilySearch, a nonprofit organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; the Allen County (Ind.) Public Library; and the Center for Research Libraries.

"Those are the first four, and those will probably keep us busy for the next 200 years," Wilding said.

Many images at Footnote have never been online previously, such as many of the 50,000 World War II photos and 50,000 Vietnam War photos. Ditto for documents of the Southern Claims Commission, which handled petitions to the U.S. government filed by Southerners faithful to the Union during the Civil War to recover their financial losses during the conflict.

Case files from the pre-FBI agency known as the Bureau of Investigations also are available, including a 300-page file on William Randolph Hearst.

UFO enthusiasts might enjoy scrolling through Project Blue Book documents, which are descriptions of sightings of UFOs from 1947 to 1969 compiled by the federal government.

Preserving history

Footnote officials work with the partner organizations to determine what gets put online, and when. Microfilm images can be added more quickly than those from paper documents, but the latter often contain some of the most valuable content and are deteriorating faster.

"Once you've got it digitized, you've really preserved it, and you can provide access to it," Wilding said. "People don't have to flip through the pages."

Larry Berry of Sarasota, Fla., capitalized on the Web site to look a little further back in time — and he found his ancestors' Civil War amnesty records.

"There was some material I tried to get before, but I never could," he said. "I had written (the National Archives) to see about it, and they sent back that they didn't have anything. But I saw it was available on Footnote, and I was able to get it."

He also discovered an American Revolution-era affidavit with information about another person he was interested in, and in The (London) Times, he found some more family history.

"The way Footnote was arranged, I could go in and type in what I wanted, and it would come back very easily," Berry said, noting that names would be highlighted on the newspaper pages.

"When you write the National Archives, you've got to be very specific, and even then, you might not get something back," he said. "With this, I put the names in, and it came back. It was beautiful when I printed that stuff out, going back that far, to see the original document."

Payne said he found details about his mother's side of the family dating to the early 1700s, and he reveled in exploring other colonial records. He found documents signed by one ancestor, "and I was just absolutely blown away by the clarity of the images," he said.

He also was impressed with the ease of the text search tools in finding words and names, "even in the loopy, scripty, spidery longhand you often find in these documents."

Company genesis

Footnote's roots trace back to 1994, with a company called Automated Solutions Inc., which later, under another name, specialized in digitizing logs of truckers and health-care organizations.

Wilding came on board in 1998, but sold the assets and remade the company. By 2000, the newly named iArchives was moving toward digitizing microfilm newspaper archives. The first project was for the University of Utah's J. Willard Marriott Library, and the company later digitized about 100 years of editions of The Dallas Morning News. The News' parent company, A.H. Belo, is a Footnote investor.

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