Bio: Schwarze, Stan and Jan (16 Sep 2015)

Contact: Robert Lipprandt 

Surnames: Lesar, Schwarze

----Source: The Tribune - Phonograph (Abbotsford, WI) 9/16/2015

Clark County Historians

Couple with Greenwood roots chronicles local history

By Dean Lesar

Through the modern technological phenomena of the Internet, a pair of former Clark County residents have created a porthole to the past.

To walk through the doors of the Clark County History Buffs web site started 15 years ago by Stan and Jan Schwarze is to take a stroll to times long past, to forgotten family members, to literally hundreds of thousands of pieces of information scattered by time but now collected and organized in one lasting location.

The Schwarzes’ own personal story is not unlike that of thousands of other Clark County natives. They live here for a while, then move away. Their connections to home has always remained, but Jan’s interest more than 20 years ago in intertwining threads of the family’s genealogical quilt started as “addictive” quest to assemble as much personal history of Clark County as possible.

The Clark County History buffs Website - - is now far more expansive than either Jan or Stan could have ever envisioned.

What started with a modest effort to catalog obituaries from decades past has evolved into an exhaustive collection of Clark County history.

With dozens of volunteers around the United States - almost all with some life connection to central Wisconsin - volunteering immeasurable hours to transcribing history, the website holds files on vital records ranging from births to weddings to deaths. There are maps, photographs, old news articles and property records.

And those obituaries the Schwarzes started with? They now number over 160,000.

Stan has a familial connection to Clark County, although he never anticipated he’s spend so much of his retirement years intrigued by it. His family name, he said, is one of the most popular in the Greenwood cemetery, and his great-grandfather, his twin and his brother all moved to the area with large families about the same time in the early 1900’s.

Stan graduated from Greenwood High School in 19763, Jan, who had moved to the area from Indiana as a sophomore, graduated from Greenwood a year later. The married in 1965 and moved two years later to Rochester, Minn., where Stan spent his working career with IBM.

Local history was little on their minds until Jan began digging into genealogical records just to see where the branches of the family tree might lead. Once she had pieced the tree together, it seemed as if there should be a place to record it.

“She started investigating my family roots,” Stan said. “As she dug and found out more information, she also had a wealth of information on other people. Rather than have that information sitting in a desk drawer, it was her creation to start a website.”

Jan actually laid the foundation for the eventual website long before most people even knew what such a thing was. While she dabbled more and more with history and was captivated by what she was finding, Stan was still skeptical.

“She did a lot of this stuff long before the website came about,” Stan said. “I really didn’t have an interest.”

He did have a computer background from his career, so he helped Jan look for ways to make the data she was collecting more accessible to people who might be interested in it.

“We had the computer knowledge, but at that time there wasn’t a lot of Internet in Clark County,” Stan said. “We thought, ‘Why not make that information useful to people? This history should belong to the people and their families that lived it.’”

The Schwarzes began spending time in Clark County libraries, where they accessed microfilm records of old county newspapers, many of which do not even exist anymore. Those decades-old pages carried documentation of the people who had come and gone. And when they went, an obituary was left behind. Those were the basis of the Schwarzes’ initial interest.

“Once we got into this thing, we found out that Wisconsin ahs the second best collection of newspapers on microfilm in the country,” Stan said.

In shifting though old papers from small towns like Dorchester, Granton and Humbird, Stan and Jan found hundreds of written records of former county resident. It was a daunting task, but they began assembling those obituaries from the eventual website.

“One obit a day, that’s where I started,” Stan said.

The task of catching up on thousands of obituaries accelerated when word of the Schwarze’s project began to spread. Once a web presence was established and people began to see it, they contacted Jan and Stan and asked if they could help. That was the birth of the Clark County History Buffs, the volunteers who now provide much of the time to keep the record vault growing.

Stan said the volunteer roll is “self-generating” and filled with folks with a passion for their history. “We had like a hundred volunteers though out the country,” Jan said.

“Most of them discovered the website and said, ‘Gee, I’m interested in helping with this,’” Stan said. “There are some who work on a daily basis.”

“We’ve had people who worked on the website until they can’t see anymore,” Jan said.

The initial goal of the website more than a decade ago was to fill it with as many obituaries as possible. Starting when newspapers began publishing in the mid 1800’s, they transcribe the old death records, one by one.

“My original view was that we would get up to 1950.” Stan said. “I never thought we’d get that far.”

The volunteers have gotten all available obituaries done through the last 1960’s. Everything since 2000 is covered, as the Schwarzes and their helpers grab them from current newspapers.

As projects go, the Clark County history website grew in dimension as interest picked up. In time, obituaries were no longer sufficient; the History Buffs wanted more, despite the massive time involved in expansion.

“If we ever capture just all the obituaries, it would be a lifetime job,” Stan said. “As we went along, people said why don’t we have weddings, why don’t we have anniversaries, why don’t we have news articles?”

The project expanded as volunteer commitment would allow.

“You start with what you can handle,” Jan said. And they were able to handle more as volunteer dedication rose. With the inclusion of more material, the site began to resemble an online library. The site’s home page depicts a book shelf filled with volumes on the county’s past.

“We wanted it to look like a library,” Jan said. “We wanted it to be like a brick-and-mortar history center that you could walk into”

Other technological advances aided the Schwarzes in building the library. Volunteers can easily access historical records from their homes and electronically submit them for posting on the site. Digital photography was a godsend, as Stan and Jan physically walked many of the county’s cemeteries to record the history carved into headstones.

Eighty-three graveyards are documented on the website, and the Schwarzes have strolled through many of them.

“It was much easier than years ago when the people had to walk through and write it all down,” Stan said. “We’ve taken thousands of photographs.”

Jan said cemeteries are still a crucial piece of the historical record. Not everyone has an obituary published in a newspaper, so headstones help supply documentation of lives and deaths that might otherwise be missed.

“We’ve went to the cemeteries and spent days on end to fill in,” Jan said, “So many of the early obituary records burned in churches or even people’s homes.”

The website also serves to prevent that from ever happening again, from vital records being forever destroyed in a fire or other natural disaster. Presumably, what’s recorded on the Internet will be permanent.

“That’s why we thing the website is really beneficial,” Jan said. “If that happens, at least these records are preserved.”

In addition to what is processed by the History Buffs, the website also accepts submission from families with ties to Clark County. Stan said they know interest in history is alive, because people contact them every day to say so.

“I knew we would get an unbelievable amount of e-mail. It never slows down,” Stan said, adding that the site gets “thousands of hits per week.”

Even with the colossal amount of information already on the site, the Schwarzes said the potential to add more is limitless.

“There’s so much information out there, you could never record it,” Jan said. “It’s endless. There’s so much more you could do.”

For Jan and Stan, who have been at this work for 15 years and counting, the mission is still captivating.

“It’s kind of addictive,” Jan said of the process of learning about people’s past lives. “A lot of times when Stan is typing, he’ll say, ‘Hey, look at this.’”

Stan said this was not his idea of retirement, but he has grown to love it.

“I wanted to vacation and read books and play in the yard, but little by little I got sucked in,” he said. “It gives us something to get up for in the morning and have a purpose.”

Jan said the work gives her and Stan and those volunteers a link to those who came before them.

“You can’t know the kinds of things they lived through without collecting this type of information,” she said.



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