One day someone’s going to be searching for you.
Chad Bailey, a 20-year-old East Tennessee State University history and accounting major, made that pronouncement after carefully placing hundreds of newspaper obituaries back into a large sack during a visit to the Johnson City Press.
Bailey heads the Washington County Obituary Project, an effort that kicked off in April with the aim of collecting, scanning and placing online the obits of people who lived in, died in or are buried within the county between 1778 and the present.
There is another source for these historical snippets, but it does not allow researchers, genealogists and others to view the actual obit online.
“It’s about history,” Bailey said. “If it weren’t for these people, there would be no Washington County, Johnson City or Jonesborough. Anybody researching will get to see something that was not transposed and that preserves history. You can learn a lot more than who the person was. It helps tie things together.”
The project functions under a larger umbrella — tngenweb.org — which is a state-level genealogy site.
Betty Jane Hylton and Margaret Houghland coordinate the Washington County portion of this project, which began in the early 1990s. They are the ones who asked Bailey and Elaine Cantrell to take on the Washington County Obituary Project.
“I’m considered the project leader,” Bailey said. “I work on the web design and saving obits; she’s been taking in obits and cleaning them so they can be scanned. Elaine Cantrell has donated her time and effort in helping getting the obits copied and ready to go online and she also has donated many obits from her own collection — about 300 of those online. She is 83 years old and one of my biggest supporters and friends.”
He said the two do cross checks to verify their authenticity, including the use of online cemetery surveys.
Inquisitors can go to www.rootsweb.com/~tnwcobit/washington_county.htm and enter to find an alphabetical menu which takes viewers to rows of obits. Some are sparkling white, others are gray or yellow with age. The items can be viewed in rows in alphabetical order.
Click on the text and the obit is expanded, allowing people to get a better look. Bailey said what people will see is a scanned version of the original, which is returned to those who lend them to the project briefly for the benefit of historical accuracy and future research.
Currently, the oldest obit is of Daniel Huffine, who died Feb. 23, 1867.
“We prefer the older ones, but we’ll take anything out of Washington County,” said Bailey, who also declared his desire to become the county’s archivist. “We started this project in April with the goal of gathering 1,000 obits by Jan. 1, 2012.”
The obit project has met its goal, though all the obits are not yet online. Bailey has managed to get nearly 470 online and has more than 830 obits lying on his table at home to scan and upload. This gives the project a total of slightly more than 1,300 obits.
“Eventually we want to make copies of what they have on microfilm at ETSU,” he said while sorting through a box of obits from the early 1900s.
At 20, he already holds the following titles: First-ever Jonesborough Genealogical Society vice president and webmaster; Washington County-Tennessee Historical Association webmaster; Watauga Association of Genealogists and Cemetery Survey Team of Northeast Tennessee member, Friends of the Washington County, Tenn., Steering Committee member.
When asked what he’ll do when all the obits on hand are placed online, Bailey replied, “keep going.”
Those wanting to get obituaries online can mail them to Chad Fred Bailey, 614 Mayberry Road, Jonesborough, TN 37659, or send by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.