In a 40-hour work week, University Archivist Paula Mitchell spends more time in the early-and mid-1900s than she does in the present day. Charged with reviewing, recording and archiving writings, photographs and artifacts of the region’s earliest settlers, Mitchell’s office – smack-dab in the middle of the Sherratt Library’s Special Collections area – is a veritable time machine. And her enthusiasm for all-things-old has more than once turned the least inclined historian into an impromptu history buff – at least until she’s pulled out the microfilm.
Anyone that has searched for information on microfilm can attest to the dreariness of the work. Parsing through each page, one at a time, is both tedious and time consuming. Fortunately, the marching of time brings with it convenience, and Mitchell and her colleagues are excited to announce the Sherratt Library’s latest advancement in its historical archiving – an advancement that makes time travel for amateur and seasoned historians alike as simple as a few mouse clicks on a home computer.
In an effort to make the past more accessible, Southern Utah University’s Gerald R. Sherratt Library has recently digitized several local publications, including the widely-read Iron County Record and the business ledger from the prominent Deseret Iron Company.
According to Dean of the Sherratt Library, John Eye, this digitization project is “all about accessibility and is vital, considering [the Library’s] role as a regional resource to provide access to materials associated with southern Utah history.”
Mitchell explains that the Record and ledger are invaluable resources for local residents looking for insights into their ancestor’s lives as well as for those simply looking to better understand the history of southern Utah.
Long-time Cedar City residents will recognize the Iron County Record as a weekly publication that ran in the area for decades. Newspapers of that era were a far cry from what they are in today’s world. As was customary for local papers of the time, the Record chronicled the daily lives of the area’s residents throughout most of the 1900s.
As Special Collections Administrator Janet Seegmiller explains, “In those days, everything was in the paper. If you lived in Modena and came to Cedar, it was in the paper. Cedar City was the biggest city in the region, and our newspaper had the most information.” The paper regularly ran articles describing local events in detail, naming each participant by name. This kind of record-keeping provides insight into the day-to-day life of settlers across southern Utah.
The newly digitized portion of the Record covers the years between the first and second World Wars (1923-1940) and is available through the Library’s website and digitalnewspapers.org. Earlier records are available through The Library of Congress, which previously digitized Records dating back to the late 1800s.
Additionally, the entire Deseret Iron Company ledger is available. In its infancy, Cedar City was a small iron mining town, and a large percentage of the locals worked in the mines. The Deseret Iron Company ledger contains records of the transactions for the workers in these old iron mines.
The ledger tracked store credit for mine workers as well as their purchases with the company store. The ledger also contains the company’s employment records, including titles, responsibilities and length of employment – all valuable information for those interested in genealogy.
Explains Mitchell, “If you want to know what your ancestors did in the mine or what their life was like, it’s all there.”
The Deseret Iron Company ledger contains over 500 pages of transactions, each page consisting of around 40 entries. That equates to over 20,000 entries throughout the entire ledger. Each entry is indexed individually, allowing the ledger to be keyword searchable.
In the light of the present day, Mitchell and her colleagues face years of archives yet to be digitized. Luck for us, this is one historian who remains undaunted by the technologies of the past.