ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (AP) — "Inside a Catholic convent deep in St. Augustine's historic district, stacks of centuries-old, sepia-toned papers offer clues to what life was like for early residents of the nation's oldest permanently occupied city.
These parish documents date back to 1594, and they record the births, deaths, marriages and baptisms of the people who lived in St. Augustine from that time through the mid-1700s. They're the earliest written documents from any region of the United States, according to J. Michael Francis, a history professor at the University of South Florida.
Francis and some of his graduate students in the Florida Studies department have spent the past several months digitizing the more than 6,000 fragile pages to ensure the contents last beyond the paper's deterioration.
"The documents shed light on aspects of Florida history that are very difficult to reconstruct," Francis said. Francis' project is timely because the state is celebrating its 500th anniversary this year."