Thursday, February 28, 2019

Unsung Heroes Award - Individual - Jim Powell (Alachua County, Florida)

There are tens of thousands of of people digitizing, indexing, and preserving images of the past, whether they be document images, photographs, postcards, newspapers, and so many diverse records. New materials are literally discovered everyday. It takes the efforts of countless unsung heroes to organize and prepare these historical and genealogical treasures for preservation, and then to generate the highest quality digital images possible. The images then need to be indexed for ease of location, and transcriptions to fulfill placing them in context.

Jim Powell, Jr.
Our first individual winner in the Unsung Heroes Award is Jim Powell, Jr., of Waldo, Alachua County Florida. Jim is an employee of the Alachua County Clerk of Court, J.K. "Jess" Irby, Esq.  Alachua County was carved from Duval and Saint John's Counties and was organized on 29 February 1824 and Gainesville is its county seat. Needless to say, courthouse space required the establishment of dedicated off-site storage. This building south of downtown Gainesville is referred to as Ancient Records.

Jim Powell counts himself lucky to have landed the job of Ancient Records Coordinator, responsible for nearly 200 years of records. It was his love of history and his experience in programming and photography that began his journey into digitizing the ancient records, and developing a huge multi-state group of dedicated volunteer who help clean up digital images, index them, and every-word transcribe their contents. He even constructed a book scanner and has written computer programs to accelerate sheet feeding scanning and file name assignment. Not only does digitizing, indexing, and transcribing make access from the courthouse convenient for county business, but it also provides free online searchable access for genealogists and historians. The only documents not freely every-word searchable and accessible are the probate files, although will book indexes are available. 

At present, the Alachua County official records date from the 1820s through the 1970s including marriage records, deeds, mortgages, commissioners minutes (through 1992), will book indexes, Soldiers and Sailor Books, and more. Nearly 500,000 images have been digitized and are every-word searchable, and over 35,000 pages have been transcribed. The availability of these records allows anyone in the world easy access to Alachua County ancestors and to ancestors who lived in the jurisdiction of Alachua County prior to other counties being split off from Alachua. Visit the Ancient Records website at

Jim Powell, Jr., is the epitome of one person who turned his vision and a passion into a brilliant community records resource for the rest of the world. 

We Sing Your Praises!


  1. On February 19th, a celebration was held in Alachua County, Florida, commemorating 35,000 pages transcribed (in addition to the scanning and indexing work already done). Jim Powell, Jr., made the following comments:

    "Long before the National Archives or the Library of Virginia started their Online Citizen Archivist programs, the Alachua County Clerk of the Courts began such a program to bring some of the history of our county out from between the dark pages of our record books into the light of the web. In the beginning we had more online indexing going on than Transcribing, but at some early point the Transcribers took off. Our earliest large scale transcriber was Elaine Campbell. She said she didn’t have much time to help, but she would try. She stopped helping for personal reasons at 854 Transcriptions. We thought that was a lot. Today’s Transcribers are nothing short of AWESOME. They passed 35,000 Transcriptions last week. We have one new person that might rival our current trio that do something almost every day or keep coming back to help out for short periods. Kaley Behl is always coming back and doing a few here and there, she has a total of 1861 Transcriptions, 5 of which were done on Valentine’s Day. Charlotte Vallellanes does a couple or more transcriptions almost every day. Charlotte’s total is 6819 with 132 of them being transcribed this year (2019) Karen Kirkman started competing with another rock star transcriber (Sharon Wheeler). Karen likes to compete, at this point she is mostly either competing for the day, or with herself. Karen’s current total is 13,439 pages with 143 of them being transcribed this year(2019). Sharon Wheeler mentioned above as someone Karen strived to catch is no longer helping. She ended up with 2493 Transcriptions with her byline on them “Transcribed by Sharon Wheeler dd Month yyyy” Our newest member as of the moment is Nancy Yenser who has only been helping since January 29th and has transcribed 17 pages."


  2. "Along with our Transcription Milestone of 35,000 pages, we have also just passed a milestone with our online records. We passed 500,000 pages online and easily accessible to the public. Volunteers like the ones mentioned above, make these pages even more accessible.

    "A Thank YOU like no other to Former Clerk Buddy Irby and current Clerk Jesse Irby for their belief in and support of this monumental project. And I cannot leave out my Long time supervisor and mentor, Archie Matthews. He always believed in what we were doing and he came up with a lot of words in these documents, like “quire” that no one else would have.

    "Believe it or not I have heard that our project is known in historical and genealogical circles around the country. It is used in courses for Genealogists and mentioned in places you would think would have never heard of the Alachua County Clerk of the Court.

    "A very special thank you to all of those Volunteers that have done a page or two, or 15, or 100 or whatever they had to give. Without them, we would not be over 35,000 Transcriptions today. Also Than You to all of those people who tirelessly worked on Indexing. They finished our marriage index adding entries page by page. They also finished our earliest Deed Indices from the first one until 1928.

    One more Thank You and I think we all need to thank her, my wife Debbie. A long time ago when I was still in Construction, she quietly pointed me towards Genealogy, even though my first words to her about it were something like “Why are you digging up dead people.” And she pointed me towards Computers. As Luck or Fate would have it through genealogy, I decided it would be nice to transcribe the Ancient Records Book. Mr Irby seemed happy to help out and appreciated my skills (At the time collaboration with Debbie was part of my skills) Without telling the whole story, I was hired as Ancient Records Coordinator and the computer skills helped create the Project that we have today. So Deb created the person that fit this job.

    "Lastly, I would like to say it is very humbling to be a part of such an awesome project. In the beginning I was asked “To find what we have, to preserve it, while making it accessible” That is why I am here. That is why I continue to do what I can. I appreciate this exceptional opportunity and I appreciate everyone that has helped to keep this mission going. As long as there are still dark pages that need to see the light, I hope we can continue our Mission."