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Marin volunteers build a mine of history online

  • Cathy Gowdy of the Marin County Genealogical Society is researching census and immigration records at her home office in Novato on Friday, December 3, 2021. Gowdy helps digitize the society’s obituaries and make them available online. (Alan Dep / Marin Independent Journal)

  • Cathy Gowdy of the Marin County Genealogical Society flips through a scrapbook filled with family photos of her husband at home in Novato on Friday, December 3, 2021 (Alan Dep / Marin Independent Journal)

  • Documents at Cathy Gowdy’s head office in Novato on Friday, December 3, 2021. She is a researcher for the Marin County Genealogical Society. (Alan Dep / Marin Independent Journal)

  • Cathy Gowdy of the Marin County Genealogical Society consults an 1883 obituary of a female Marin which indicates the cause of death is “a team on the run” at her home office in Novato on Friday, November 19, 2021. (Sherry LaVars / Marin Independent Journal)

  • Cathy Gowdy of the Marin County Genealogical Society at her home office in Novato on Friday, November 19, 2021. Gowdy helps digitize the Society’s obituaries and make them available online. (Sherry LaVars / Marin Independent Journal)

The Marin County Genealogical Society strives to secure its wealth of records for posterity by moving records online.

The company, formed in 1977, compiles archives of family records with the goal of promoting interest in family history and encouraging the management of genealogical data.

Now, like the organization’s meetings, everything is online for the use of families and researchers.

It turned out to be a monumental task for members Vernon Smith and Ron McGinnis, both residents of San Rafael. This is the first time they’ve sought outside help, bringing in volunteers to help convert obituaries to PDFs for the website.

Novato resident Cathy Gowdy is the organization’s principal investigator. Since 1979, she has used every method she can think of for the cause, including taking microfilm records from libraries in Marin to scan paper clippings archived in local churches.

Gowdy now uses obituaries published in the newspaper every day, placing them in a Microsoft Word document and forwarding them to Smith to convert them to PDF files. This process is aimed at preserving files and making them more accessible.

In the past, a person would pay a small fee to access a Gowdy obituary. To access several files, a person would be invited to become a member by making a donation, now at a price of $ 30 per year.

Moving everything around the company website will streamline this process. Gowdy now gives people free access to an obituary, knowing the importance for people to see family history or for other genealogists.

“We’re all researchers, we’ve done so much research on our own families,” Gowdy said.

“The newspapers were extremely descriptive at first, much more than they are now,” Gowdy said. “We learn a lot of things… and of course obituaries are part of that, and they give us clues about their lives and their personalities.”

Smith, Gowdy and McGinnis work as volunteers.

“It’s a tedious job, it takes about 10 steps on the computer to convert a file,” McGinnis added. “You have to be dedicated. “

Smith said people in other states and countries are looking for recordings of all kinds for many different purposes. Gowdy receives new inquiries from all over the world while catching up with new obituaries every day.

Gowdy recalls projects like helping Sausalito resident Lucina Vidauri trace the family roots of Coast Miwok and her Indigenous parents. She once worked closely with a man from Australia who wrote books about Marin’s history of his family.

Gowdy also wrote. Her book, “Eastland Families in America,” tells the story of the family of a friend whose parents date back to the early years of the Eastland area of ​​Mill Valley.

“In some ways, I prefer a project I did for the California Room in the Civic Center library,” Gowdy said. “My goal was to try to identify all the Mariners who served in the Civil War somewhere and then ended up here.”

Gowdy said the transition to online archives is vital for new generations who “don’t have the connections we used to have”.

“We’re just too mobile,” she said. “It gives them a space to identify with.”

The company regularly holds open online meetings, which has broadened its connections. Smith said, “We have people from all over with us.”

“I think this kind of work is really helpful to other genealogists,” McGinnis said. “I think that next to a will, having an obituary is like having a treasure trove of genealogical information. “

More information is available by sending an email to [email protected]


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Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.