Chris Bateman, The Union Democrat

Generosity is commonplace here in the Mother Lode.

Our friends and neighbors often give hundreds of hours of volunteer time to the less fortunate or contribute thousands of dollars to worthy causes.

But what Carlo De Ferrari has given to Tuolumne County rises to a higher level. He has bequeathed his life's work to the community.

A retired longtime county clerk-auditor and the county's official historian since the mid-1970s, De Ferrari is donating decades' worth of research, interviews, documentation, investigation and collecting.

Formally accepted by the Board of Supervisors earlier this month were:

• The De Ferrari-Hartvig Historical Library: This is a priceless collection of rare books, magazines, newspapers, photographs and maps dealing with county and area history. Assembled by De Ferrari and his late wife, Harriet Hartvig De Ferrari, the library includes more than 3,000 books, 500 rolls of microfilmed county newspapers and diaries, one-of-a-kind photo albums and more than 50 maps.

A highlight is the more than 250,000 3-by-5 index cards that De Ferrari over 50 years hand-typed and cross-referenced by subject. Researchers can use the cards to track down information on thousands of Mother Lode pioneers, locations, businesses, organizations and more.

The library will be kept at the De Ferrari Archive, behind the library on Greenley Road.

• The De Ferrari-Hartvig Family Gun Collection, on display at the county museum, includes more than 75 pistols, rifles and shotguns together with loading equipment, powder flasks and horns, shot flasks and belts and cartridges. Many of the weapons were used by early Tuolumne County pioneer families and lawmen.

In this era of rapid-fire bulletins, 24-hour news cycles and fleeting memories, the past and our own community's heritage are at constant risk of disappearing or, almost as bad, becoming irrelevant.

De Ferrari, from his boyhood, through his 32-year career in the Tuolumne County clerk's office and beyond, has been a sentry jealously guarding our past from harm. But he's also shared our history generously, telling its stories and teaching its lessons.

He has been an invaluable resource for scores of professional and amateur historians looking for secrets from Tuolumne County's early days. Reporters from this newspaper alone have called De Ferrari thousands of times over the decades, and he's always obliged with not only answers to our questions, but with fascinating tales to help illustrate our work.

But as the years have gone by, the 85-year-old De Ferrari admits, he began to worry about what would become of his increasingly valuable collections when he passed on. After his wife died nearly a year ago, he decided to donate them to Tuolumne County while he was still living.

Which is a great win-win story.

His treasures will be in good hands: At the archive, County Records Manager Charlie Dyer - a longtime friend and confidant of De Ferrari's - will be charged with care of the library. Although none of the materials may be removed from the premises, much of it will be available to researchers.

Dyer hopes to put much of the bequeathed information - including that prodigious index card catalog - on a computer data base. The De Ferraris' valuable research, thus, may soon be available to a wider audience.

The gun collection, on display at the county's Bradford Street museum, may be the most visually dramatic part of the De Ferraris' living legacy. It includes a Winchester rifle believed to have killed the last grizzly bear in Tuolumne County in 1895 and a Colt revolver once packed by the county's first sheriff.

The collection, per county agreement, is wired to an alarm system and will be under the constant watch and care of trained staff and volunteers.

But the best news may be that De Ferraris' dual labors of love are far from over. Although his collections are now in county custody, our most eminent historian will continue refining and adding to his work for as long as he is able.

Which may be the best news of all.