Jim Moore looks at a historical marriage license on the FamilySearch website from his desk at home on Dec. 7 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
Jim Moore peered at a scrawl on a scanned copy of a 1930 marriage license from St. Joseph County, Indiana.
It was the signature of the official who had registered the marriage, so hastily written that even making out the initials was nearly impossible.
But Moore recognized it right away.
“Oh, that’s Frank Nevins,” he said, naming the county clerk at the time.
Moore, 72, has had a near lifelong interest in family genealogy, thanks to a family story that Daniel Boone was a distant ancestor (his research didn’t bear out his mother’s recollection of the family tree) and his faith as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which emphasizes strong family connections.
Now, he spends much of his time in the octagonal house he and his wife built on two acres just south of Salem indexing and checking historical records to help other people trying to locate distant ancestors.
“We’ve been able to preserve billions of records all over the world,” Moore said.
Since May, Moore has reviewed over 12,000 records on FamilySearch.org, a nonprofit organization funded by the church. The site is free and open to anyone, church member or not, who wants to document the lives of past relatives.
The site’s database is built on information entered by volunteers who review scanned documents like Census, marriage, baptism and death records and enter information contained in them.
Jim Moore tells a family story from his front porch south of Salem on Dec. 7 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
Moore’s discoveries over the years have ranged from the delightful to the bizarre.
They include a 1946 marriage license from DeSoto County, Mississippi, which shows a Luther L. Hodges marrying a bride, Mary, who already shared his last name.
“I don’t know what the story is on that one. Third cousins?” he said.
Over the years, Moore has traced one of his family lines back to James Blood, an Englishman born in 1605 who later came to the U.S.
His wife’s ancestry goes back to Richard Blood, James’ son, making them ninth cousins once removed.
“I tell people we learned that after all of our kids were born,” he said with a laugh.
Moore keeps a running list of the most unusual names he’s encountered while entering records.
They include men named Slaughter, Colonel and Bessie, as well as a woman named Blondilla in a 1940 Census record, more than a decade before the original Godzilla movie was released.
Over the years, Moore has spent much of his time manually entering information from scanned documents into the FamilySearch database.
But this year, he said the site ran into a backlog as more church members were staying home and passing the time indexing. He switched to reviewing, double-checking information already entered against the original scan for accuracy.
Moore speaks German and has studied the penmanship conventions from previous eras sometimes allowing him to decipher difficult to read entries. And he’s entered so much information he often recognizes things other volunteers might miss, like the illegible but distinct signature of a particular county clerk.
“It is rewarding knowing that I may be helping someone else identify a ‘lost’ ancestor,” he said.
Family lore often gives people just enough information to search for distant relatives, like a name and a country of origin.
Moore pointed to a recent example he’d reviewed, a marriage application for a once-divorced carpenter named John Fisher, born in Indiana in 1876.
“If he were one of your ancestors, wouldn't you be excited to find this document?” he said.
Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.
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