Wednesday, July 26, 2017

South Carolina church and cemetery surveys

Sometimes you have to dust, just a bit, to rediscover a vase for fresh Trader Joe flowers or a cool bottle that would be perfect to hold loose pens. In our case you might find some little used microfiche that would make a fine new-to-you resource. Yes, I said microfiche as only a geeky genealogist would.  Microfiche, as it turns out, is an excellent resource for long-term preservation of archival materials.  Similar to reels of microfilm it is flat and about 4 x 5, not a reel. We have several collections on fiche in our collection.

As we were packing, and then unpacking, our print collection for our new digs at Richland Library. We came across a collection of SC cemetery surveys and South Carolina Church surveys.  Both collections, created by the WPA in the 1930’s, are available on microfiche. If you never heard of them don’t feel alone, they get very little use. They didn’t even have a catalog record so we dusted them off and added records. Then we explored them a bit and considered how to make them more accessible.

First, it turns out that the church inventory is digitized and available through University of South Carolina. Here is a bit of information about the inventory from the homepage:

“The Inventory of Church Archives survey sheets are available for forty-two of South Carolina’s forty-six counties. Surveys for Chester, Edgefield, Fairfield, and Georgetown are not extant. The questionnaires provided the means by which information was systematically gathered on African-American and white churches in both rural and urban areas, including address, date organized, building description, construction date, and, of primary importance, listings of any known church records.
An index to churches included in the Inventory of Church Archives is available in Richard N. Côté’s Local and Family History in South Carolina: A Bibliography (1981).”

Next, many of the cemeteries in the WPA cemetery surveys are likely available in other publications; however, these surveys are special because they were completed in the 1930’s. Many of the tombstone transcriptions are not available today through either damage or weather. For example, several WPA transcriptions for Columbia’s St. Peter’s Cemetery do not exist today. The only indication we have that they existed is through the WPA cemetery surveys. 

Here is description of the surveys from the South Carolina Department of Archive and History:

In the late 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) recorded names, birth dates, and death dates from gravestones in some cemeteries across the state. The volumes containing the transcriptions are at the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina. In 1981, these inscriptions were transcribed, organized by last name, and microfilmed by the South Carolina Historical Society in cooperation with the South Carolina Genealogical Society.”

Have a look for yourself! Below are links to our catalog record. Here you will find the link to the digitized Inventory of Church Archives and a digital list of cemeteries found in the WPA survey.

Inventory of Church Archives

W.P.A. transcripts of tombstone inscriptions in South Carolina

The cemetery survey is organized by last name not by cemetery (although the cemetery is listed on the record).  The way the material was filmed it will be difficult for the computer to read, or OCR, the records so there would be limited cross-referencing.  Would you still find it valuable as a digitized resource if we digitized the collection?  Let me know.  We are considering the possibility of digitizing the collection.

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