Bridgewater Township, Rice County, Minnesota, was established as a unit of government in 1853. Since then, a long series of dedicated Township Clerks have created records, filed paperwork and otherwise served as historians to the Township, both in their official capacity as keepers of minutes and contracts, and in their capacity as clerk, filing other papers as they saw fit. Over time, these records were kept in various forms, including original books, folders, boxes and bundles of loose papers. For the most part these records were inaccessible to the public, not because they are sensitive, but simply because they are filed or stored and not on display. These historical records contain a wealth of information about the business of the township and about the people who made the township what it is today. In the 1980s, Geraldine Reuvers, serving as Township Clerk (1986-2002), set out to hand transcribe these township records. In 2010 the Township, in partnership with the Rice County Genealogical Society, set out to continue that work. From a total of 45 Township record books, 17 were selected to be scanned in the first phase of the project. Of those 17, 6 of the oldest were selected to be transcribed into electronic form, by members of the Rice County Genealogical Society and other volunteers from the community. With the help of the Rice County Historical Society and the Northfield Historical Society, over the next three years, these selected books were painstakingly converted to electronic form, first as scans, then as transcribed electronic copies.
Many who helped with this project are descendants of the early settlers and residents of Bridgewater township. At the completion of this project in 2013, the original books were moved to the Rice County Historical Society’s museum in Faribault, the Rice County seat, while the electronic versions were forwarded to the Northfield History Collaborative to be placed in their online collections.
The challenges were many. Many of the books were fragile, having been stored for decades in boxes in the Township Hall. In many cases, the inks were faded, and special attention had to be paid to the scanning, in others, the layouts were irregular and not easily converted to standard left-to-right electronic form (see 1864 Special meeting to support the Union forces).
In addition, the handwriting styles were unfamiliar, the language often arcane.
While the material seemed daunting, and sometimes quite mundane, at times gems were found among the pages. For example, when transcribed, the contents of the page titled “To My Successor” revealed a dutiful Township Clerk offering counsel and guidance to his successor.
To My Successor in Office
Dear sir in as much as my term of Office has now expired and the duties of my office been performed, But with what correctness I leave you and others to judge, hoping that you will make the allowance, for my inexperience, in the performance of public duties which are sometimes somewhat intricate I found the papers of the town in rather a loose condition, but with a degree of performance I have succeeded in geting [sic] them in a more compact form I now most cheerfully submit the Books and papers into your hands hopeing [sic] that your Clerkship may prove an acceptable passtime [sic] for you. And also hoping that in your entercourse [sic] with the people of the town of Bridgewater, you may be able to give them good and wise counsel both in public and private life I have been a silent spectator and observer of the many carectors [sic] that are daily brot [sic] in contact with each other, And often observe actions promted [sic] by some Evil Selfish motives. And at other times remarks are made through more hollow minded Soulessness as a lack of good sense.
From ‘The Town Clerk’s Book’, pg 51
Other interesting examples included a request for payment of a bounty on a wolf taken in the township, lists of taxpayers and the levies they owed, and extensive histories of roads within the township. Especially interesting are the rosters of voters and election tally sheets from the late 1800’s. Many time names were recognized and interesting relationships revealed. All in these formerly inaccessible public records, now made accessible through the combined efforts of so many volunteers. The Township is very grateful for the work done, and especially so to the Township clerks who struggled so mightily to create and store these documents. Specific acknowledgement must be given to Geralidine Reuvers, Clerk, who saw, long before it was fashionable, the importance of electronic forms of information storage. A similar acknowledgment is due Janalee Cooper, Clerk, whose dedication to this project provided the essential link between the Board and the volunteers (and others) in whom the township placed its trust and hopes for this project. The final products (visible in the Rice County Historical museum archives and online through the Northfield History Collaborative) are now available to all the citizens through those efforts, and the Township is most indebted to all whose efforts made this possible.
– Bruce W. Morlan, Project oversight, Township Supervisor (2010-2013)