The presidential library’s Center for Digital Initiatives has set
up a website where anybody interested in history can log in to see
the papers of Richard Yates Sr., a Lincoln ally and governor of
Illinois during the Civil War. Visitors can then set up accounts
letting them transcribe the documents for future researchers and
historians to use.
The 30,000 pages offer a unique historical resource for uncovering
the day-to-day experience of Illinois in the Civil War. Normally, a
trove of documents like this would not be transcribed. Someone doing
research would have to painstakingly dig through them one by one in
the hope of finding something connected to their topic.
But by “crowdsourcing” the project, the Lincoln Presidential Library
hopes to produce a searchable transcription of all the documents,
making these historical records available to researchers around the
affairs make up much of Governor Yates’ correspondence, but his
papers also contain extraordinary insight into political, social and
economic conditions in Illinois during the war,” said Daniel Stowell,
director of the presidential library’s Center for Digital
Initiatives. “Volunteer transcribers will provide an invaluable
historical and public service by making the text of the Yates papers
To join the project, visit
and click on “Transcriptions.” That takes visitors to a page with
links at the top and bottom to create an account. After you sign up,
a confirmation will be sent to your email. Click on it and then go
back to the Transcriptions page to select a document and begin.
After that, volunteers simply read a document and type the text into
a box at the bottom of the page. When they’ve finished, the document
is saved and put in a file for other volunteers to review before it
Joan Walters, a volunteer at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential
Library and Museum, has transcribed literally thousands of documents
at the library. She urges anyone interested in history to consider
joining this new project.
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“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Walters said.
“It’s a powerful way to learn history. These documents are the
voice of the people from a time when they had little opportunity
to voice their concerns.”
Yates, known as the “Soldier’s
Friend,” was one of the most consequential Union war governors. He
worked tirelessly to ensure that Illinois did its utmost to recruit,
organize, and supply troops. As a result, Illinois made a crucial
contribution to the ultimate Union victory: some 285,000 Illinoisans
served in the U.S. Army and over 35,000 of them died.
Thousands of people, both rich and poor, wrote to Yates about a
myriad of subjects, including political campaigns, requests for jobs
and favors, pleas to have sons released from military service and
activity by Southern-sympathizing “Copperheads.”
Among his more prominent correspondents were General Ulysses S.
Grant, General William T. Sherman, Secretary of War Edwin M.
Stanton, and, of course, President Lincoln.
The digitization of the Yates papers, which are divided into two
major collections, Yates Family Papers and the Richard Yates (Wabash
College) Papers, was made possible by a generous grant from the
National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
The Center for Digital Initiatives works with other units of the
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum to provide
researchers worldwide with digital access to many of the Library’s
historical resources. The Center for Digital Initiatives also works
with partners to enhance the visitor experience in the Museum with
[Chris Wills, Abraham Lincoln
Presidential Library & Museum]