Eastern Townships historical archives go online for new database project

Everything from frayed deeds of sale to personal diaries are being uploaded as part of the new Eastern Townships archives portal project. When complete, the website will give people all over the world access to hundreds of years of history.

'Only 1% of this material is available online right now,' says archivist

This photo of an unidentified woman from the 1850's is one of thousands of items that will be available in the archives portal. (Kate McGillivray/CBC )

Archivists in the Eastern Townships are in a race against the clock.

Their goal? To get hundreds of years of historical documents uploaded in time for the launch of a new online database this spring.

The Eastern Townships Archive Portal will allow users to search people and places, and browse through the materials that come up.

Jody Robinson, an archivist at the Eastern Townships Resource Centre, is responsible for managing the project.   

"You could plug in 'Way's Mills' for instance and then you might come up with a couple businesses that were in Way's Mills, some textual records, maybe financial ledgers," Robinson said. 

"You could also have a postcard of their main street or some photographs that were taken of some buildings."

Robinson thinks the archives portal will have something to offer everyone, from the most serious academic to the most casual browser:

"People who are doing research to write books, or working on their thesis material, they're going to be interested in a website like this," she said.

"You also have people who have family in the region and want to learn more about the area."

Five historical organizations from around the Townships are uploading portions of their collections, including historical societies in Lennoxville, Stanstead East, Brome, and Eaton Corner.

Jody Robinson of the Eastern Townships Resource Centre says there's a push in the archives community to get things online so they can be more widely used. (Kate McGillivray/CBC )

Financial help

The archives portal was made possible by a grant from Library and Archives Canada.

"In the end, we received the highest amount for this grant across the province of Quebec for this funding year — and I think we received the sixth highest amount Canada-wide out of 65 projects," Robinson said.

The $44,000 they've received has helped them hire three archival technicians, responsible for helping the historical societies prepare their documents for uploading.

Hard work ahead

One of the archival technicians is Abbey Lacroix.

The archives student is spending three months at the Missisquoi Historical Society, preparing stacks of documents for the website.

Though the task ahead is substantial, Lacroix isn't daunted.

"I found all of this very interesting. To go through each document, find what's interesting about it, what researchers would want to know, any weird details about it...I think it's fun," she said.

Archival technician Abbey Lacroix and archivist Rolande Lagacé-Laduke want to share the story of Missisquoi county with the rest of the world. (Kate McGillivray/CBC )

Rolande Lagacé-Laduke, archivist at the Missisquoi Historical Society, is excited to share the contents of the archives with the rest of the world. She said she often receives e-mails and visits from people curious about their families roots in the area.

"I think it's a great thing for us," she said.

Lagacé-Laduke said they have "more than 2000" file folders crammed full of archival material in Missisquoi.

"[We have] files from individuals, collections of postcards, microfilm, church records, government records, diaries, photo albums," she said.

For her part, Robinson is most excited for people to have access to images that offer a glimpse of how Townshippers once lived.

"Just those really good quality photos of people doing everyday things," she said.

The website is set to launch in mid-April.