Over the past year, I had the pleasure of working to digitalize and transcribe a nearly 250-page ledger which was in use from 1888 to 1899 and which documents aspects of the establishment and development of early Stillwater. Digitalization in and of itself is an increasingly important part of maintaining historical records. Transcription, however, provides something unique, especially for older documents: the ability to search for particular results. Rather than reading through innumerable pages hoping to find a particular name or topic, a few button clicks can find exactly where terms of interest are in the document.
Transcription comes with its own set of obstacles, of course. For the ledger in particular, formatting was sometimes difficult. As the transcriber, I had to decide which abnormal formatting details merited replication in the transcription and, for those details which did, determine how to best indicate their formats (e.g. marked-through text, text written in the margins of a particular page, text which had been pasted on top of other text). It was also somewhat challenging to maintain a balance between transcribing the ledger faithfully and making the ledger as clear as possible to future researchers. Proper punctuation evidently wasn’t always the greatest concern for who wrote in the ledger, making it difficult at times to determine where one thought ends and another picks up. Recording the formatting and the details of the original writing was a challenge at times, certainly, but it was one that I found I enjoyed navigating over the course of the transcription process.
The ledger itself can be divided into three parts: financial transactions that occurred in Winfield prior to Stillwater’s official establishment, legal documents (e.g. title transfers and various claims), and, my personal favorite, ordinances. If we see laws as solutions to common problems, then analyzing the early laws of Stillwater can indicate both what problems existed at the time the law was passed and how the town adapted to solve these problems. For instance, several ordinances were dedicated to both preventative measures against fires and measures which could be taken once a fire had begun. With the permission of three (of five) fire wardens, for example, any wooden building could be torn down and pulled out of the way to prevent the spread of fire, and fire wardens could also command idle persons to assist in the extinguishment thereof (and, if they refused, could have them charged with a misdemeanor). Other ordinances cover everything from the construction of the first sidewalks to the licensing of dogs (the ledger even indicates that there is a separate book which details the names, descriptions, and dog owners of all licensed dogs in Stillwater!). Reading through the ordinances from the ledger, both those which are entertaining and those which are decidedly less so, gives one a greater appreciation for the current state of Stillwater and greater insight into the challenges that the city has faced throughout its unique development.
It is my sincere hope that the ledger transcription can help others in the future with their research, whether those researchers are looking for the names of their ancestors in the financial transactions or are interested in learning more about the first appearance of telephones in the town or something else entirely. I look forward to doing similar projects in the future and making even more of Stillwater’s fascinating early history available to whoever may be interested!
Abby Ferrell, Museum Volunteer