Researchers at USF St. Petersburg are working to digitize a treasure trove of Spanish documents that shed light on Florida’s past in St. Augustine.
Saber Gray sits at a table sorting the fragile, lacy pages by year and category — births, baptisms, marriages, deaths. She wears white cotton gloves to protect the pages and peers closely at each one as she goes. At a nearby table Arthur Tarratus methodically places one document after another into a box and photographs each page. Then he places one atop another with white-gloved hands until the stack reaches nearly a foot tall. And so it goes throughout the day, page after page.
“Tedious,” he says with a frown.
Gray and Tarratus are USF St. Petersburg graduate students in Florida Studies, working under the supervision of J. Michael Francis, the Hough Family Endowed Chair in Florida Studies, who sits at another table pondering a bound volume of documents from the late 1700s. The slow, deliberate nature of the work obscures their race against time.
Every day that passes is another day closer to the inevitable destruction of these priceless pages.
They have been working since September and hope to finish sometime in March. All the documents will then be placed on Vanderbilt University’s endangered archives site. Someday a scholar in Spain or another in New York City might use the documents to connect the dots of a narrative already being built from other records housed there.
MUCH more in the complete article.