Donna Cooper

Donna Cooper

Friday, November 19, 2010

Genealogy's Personal Touch

Barry County is where my roots are and so I want my family history to be saved for those who come behind me. It bothers me to see people who don't care about the preservation of record. Careless record keeping and slapped together family trees bring my temperature up above what is normally healthy. 

My earliest family came to the county around 1836, long before much record keeping was done in this county. I've had to learn a lot to follow their footsteps through Barry County. Since I have ancestors scattered all over, my study has taken me to every community in the county. This long research journey began about 40 years ago and has progressed with time. Before the Internet, sometimes it took months to do what we can do in a few hours now. The web makes research easier for all of us when the record is reported with care so accurate record keeping has been my goal.

Among the things that I've done to help make web studies better for researchers was to transcribe the 1850, 1860, 1870 and the 1880 census and the early county newspapers. I learned a lot about the Barry County as I plowed through those early documents. In the days when few could read and write sometimes these early records were less than accurate.

Cemeteries are a great research tool and I really do love cemetery work but sometimes old stones are not very accurate either. But with all the pieces usually some truth can be found in the record. I always think of broken down old cemeteries as tattered and worn out history books. All we have to do to learn about an area is just page through the stones. 

My interest in cemeteries keeps growing, but when I was the president of the Northwest Arkansas Genealogical Society and helping with the recording of the Benton Co., AR, cemeteries, I always thought that it would great to do all the cemeteries in Barry County. Back in those days we did hand transcriptions because that was before we had digital cameras. Those, I learned, are usually filled with error. The camera brought accuracy to the transcription process. 

After I became coordinator, I realized that if the Barry cemeteries were ever going to be photographed, the time was at hand. The newly developed digital camera was on my buy list and I wanted one bad. So with a new camera and my cemetery dreams that did not hush, I asked for volunteers to help with the cemetery project. 

Since then, many dedicated and hard working individuals have jumped in to help. Folks have bared the heat, chiggers, and ticks to record the record so that it might be saved for generations to come. Through their efforts and devotion, we have about ¾ of the county cemeteries done at the present time. These photographs have help correct Internet genealogy and make it accountable to the written record. 

The interest in cemetery work has blossomed in our county, too, since we began recording stones. During this past year several old broken down cemeteries have been fenced; stones have been heaved up from the earth; broken stones have been repaired; stones that appeared unreadable have been transcribed; and old cemeteries that no one seemed to care about have been cleaned up and made public knowledge. Hard working volunteers did all of this on their own time and by their own wits. Barry County has a wonderful working genealogy society and they are encouraging and working hard on the restoration of cemeteries. Their work will be remembered for generations to come. We have proven that saving the record of our ancestors is foremost on our minds here in Barry County. 

Most of us like to go to the cemetery and dig up broken pieces of history and so do I. Cameras have clicked history right back into the pages that we thought were lost forever. Early on I jumped in with my camera and photographed Berryhill, King's Prairie and Maddy and with Darla Marbut's help we did New Site, King's, Calton and Chitwood Cemeteries. Also I submitted several photos for other cemeteries such as Washburn Prairie, Oakhill and Monett IOOF. Since then I have done several more. In 2010 Ted Roller helped me with Skelton, Roller at Garfield - the retakes, Mt. Olive in Newton County and Bethel Jolly. Phyllis Long and I did Perkins, A. P. Henderson and Darla Marbut and I did Ennis and Higgs. I did Mano about that same time. 

Determined to preserve the record has kept my computer buzzing. The coordinator's job is the largest and most complex volunteer work that I have ever undertaken. The ability to coordinate projects detail a web site's success but there are other things that have to be done, too. Sometimes just answering the mail is a full day's work. 

On my first day as coordinator I received almost 200 e-mail messages. That night, after 12 hours of work, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. For awhile I worked day and night and tried to get a handle the massive amount of work that lay in front of me. At first glance I could see that accuracy was a problem with much of what was stored already. Many names were recorded in cemeteries incorrectly and with incorrect dates. There was a lot of work to be done. In the past 2 years we have added about 6,000 new pages and made accuracy a priority. 

Without volunteers there would be nothing to coordinate, so the helpers who work so hard for Barry are the ones to be thanked for the marvelous web site that they have created. My thanks to our helpers for all they do, for preserving the record for those to come behind us and for caring about accuracy.

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