Archivist unravels history's puzzles



When it comes to time travel, the new Calaveras County archivist is becoming a frequent flier.

History has intrigued Harleigh Winkler since boyhood, and in the past five years, he has made it personal by tracing his own past.

"It becomes like putting a big jigsaw puzzle together," said Winkler, 64.

Beyond the aged, tattered books, in rows of shelves behind Winkler's desk at the Calaveras County Archives building, he and his wife, Sandy, began unearthing their family roots in 1997.

And as the new county archivist, Winkler's job is to help other families piece their puzzles together.

"It's fun helping others, and that's why this position is fun, because that's what we're doing," Winkler said.

The county archives building on Main Street in San Andreas is surrounded by other historic buildings built in the 1800s. Inside are records from the county's earliest days, including court records, newspapers, assessment rolls, tax records and property records. There's even a book that lists the belongings of women before they were married, to assure they would retain that property if their husbands died.

Some of the books are so old, their pages so brittle, they can no longer be handled.

Which is why one of Winkler's goals as archivist is to make digital copies of as many records as possible.

"It's all intriguing," Winkler said of the countless books, photos and artifacts inside the old archives building. "But once it's lost, it's lost, just like anything else in life."

Without digital copies of records, the Winklers might have hit a dead end when seeking their own family history.

The search began in 1997. Sandy was curious about her father's mother, who died when Sandy was in high school. The two met just a few times when Sandy was a child.

Francis Coyle, Sandy's father, was raised by another woman. Coyle's mother did not keep him because she was just 13 when he was born.

The Union Democrat
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