A pilgrimage to the Dimmick Memorial Library in Jim Thorpe is often the last best hope for people seeking clues to their family history.

At the Dimmick, files dating to 1829 are archived on microfilm, a medium that, under proper storage conditions, may last for up to 500 years.

Although this research tool may outlast everyone living today, that's not the case for the machines used to read the microfilm. In this age of modernity, where a lifetime for an electronic machine rarely lasts 10 years, these often costly machines need to be replaced on a regular basis.

So it was with the Dimmick's Canon Microfilm Scanner 100, a 1993 model that the library learned was no longer serviceable. Their service company, IMR, notified them that parts were no longer available for the that model.

In response, Susan Sterling, library director, worked with former Rep. Keith McCall to obtain a Community Development Grant for a new microfilm reader.

The grant was approved and the monies were released. During the last week in July, a new microfilm reader was delivered to the Dimmick, a Canon Microfilm Scanner 300ii, a unit that offers digital features that the library hopes to make available.

These include: a USB 2.0 interface suitable to transfer files to a Flash Drive, integrations with a document management system, digital conversion of film archives, integration with a printing network, and interfacing to the Internet.

"These machines are in heavy use, especially on weekends and in the summer we have a lot of genealogy going on, mostly families," Sterling said. "It's always wonderful when someone comes in and they have been looking and looking to find something in their family to connect, and they find it."

The Dimmick has archives of local newspapers since 1829 and census records from 1870. They have a second microfilm reader, a Canon Microprinter 90.

The Canon Microfilm Scanner 100 that is being replaced is being donated to the Palmerton Area Historical Society and is planned to be located at its archives in the borough hall of Palmerton.

"With the machine we currently have, we can see the headlines but we can't read the text," said George Ashman of the society. "It had no means of printing. This machine has a printer, also."

The society is looking for a truck and a few strong hands to help move the reader from the Dimmick to Palmerton. If you can help, call Ashman at (610) 826-2097.

The idea for microfilming of documents predates the Civil War. By the turn of the last century, microfilming was beginning to be used to archive the burgeoning amount of paper documents, and in the 1920s, became popular as commercial equipment became available.

Microfilm's first military use was during Siege of Paris in 1870. The French microfilmed documents and sent them by carrier pigeon into Paris where they were projected by magic lantern and then transcribed onto paper.