Presbyterian Historical Society offers new digitization services

February 12, 2015

Philadelphia

“Microfilm is dead,” joked David Staniunas, records archivist at the Presbyterian Historical Society (PHS). Then, “Long live microfilm.”

PHS’s new Digital Reformatting Program provides congregations and mid councils with digital copies of their paper records instead of microfilm—the society’s duplication method for the previous sixty years. But that doesn’t mean the society is finished with microfilm. It recently purchased a second digital microfilm reader that allows in-house researchers to view, scan, print, and share from its extensive microfilm holdings of records, correspondence, and publications.

Bridging the microfilm-to-digital divide is one way the society is connecting the past with the present, an important part of its historical ministry since its 1852 founding.

All PC(USA) congregations and mid councils can deposit records at PHS free of charge, including registers and session minutes. The Digital Reformatting Program is a paid service that provides those same groups with high-quality, full-color reproductions at discounted rates.

According to Elise Warshavsky, PHS’s digital archivist, digitization is cheaper than microfilm and frees up storage space. “With the price of microfilm going through the roof, and more congregations wanting digital copies of records, the time was right to make a change,” Warshavsky said.

Warshavsky recently made a two-minute instructional video showing the society’s new CopiBook planetary scanner, and Reformatting Technician Stephanie Becker, at work. Watch it here.

Virginia Rainey, a Committee on the Office of the General Assembly member and PHS board director, is excited about the ways digitization makes researching records more efficient, especially with typed records; many presbytery minutes since the 1890s, and many session minutes since the 1920s, have been typed. Using optical character recognition technology, or OCR, entire volumes are now searchable for phrases and names.

“Digitization will help church bodies respond to inquiries much faster,” said Rainey, the author of Stewards of Our Heritage: A History of the Presbyterian Historical Society. “OCR will do the searching at lighting speeds, which saves time and reduces mistakes. Digital reproductions will allow people to safely look at old records wherever they are without worrying about them crumbling to death.”

Long live digitization, in other words. Long live church records.

To find out more about pricing and delivery of digital reproductions, email the society at refdesk@history.pcusa.org, call 215-627-1852, or visit the society’s digitization web page. Information about Heritage Preservation Grants for small churches can be found here.

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  1. Major thankies for the article post.Thanks Again.

    by Ken

    October 17, 2016

  2. For about two years I have been dizitising the Baptismal and death records for the First Presbyterian Church in Wausau, WI. I will probably put it on discs to forward to you.

    by Patrici.a Morse

    February 21, 2015

  3. In the 1950's, as PHS' s Assoc. Dir., I helped loft the microfilm program, with Salt Lakes Genealogical Soc., to film PHS's extensive mss. collection. Part of that effort was the transfer of about a dozen regional archive collections to PHS's care. I am so glad to hear that you are pushing the digitization effort. Please keep PHS at the front!

    by Gerald W. (Jerry) Gillette

    February 14, 2015

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