Chancery records transfer enters new phase

Published 5:00 am Monday, March 23, 2009

Want to know who bought 100 acres of untouched West Lincoln realestate in 1922? Check a computer in 2009.

All 30 of the general indices stored in the records room in theLincoln County Chancery Court’s office will soon be available inelectronic format. Another phase of an eight-year project to scanthe courthouse’s records, deeds and court documents into computerfiles began Tuesday.

Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop said the roughly thousand-pagevolumes – which serve as guides to find further records in othervolumes like deed books – will be stored on courthouse computersfor viewing during normal business hours. Contractors, appraisersand other companies doing business with the county will be issuedlogins to view the records online, he said.

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The big volumes are the latest records to be scanned since theprocess that began in October 2000, Bishop said.

He said 526 deed books, ranging from 1893 to the present, havealready been scanned, as have all the mineral deeds and oil leasebooks from 1988 to the present and 400 subdivision maps. Since2001, all scanning has been done as documents arrive, he said.

“Right now, we’ve scanned a total of 741 books,” Bishop said.”One of my goals as chancery clerk is that by the time I leave,every document of importance in this office will be scanned forpreservation for the future.”

There’s plenty of historical precedent for the need to scancounty documents, Bishop pointed out.

Lincoln County’s original courthouse burned twice in the late1800s, and thousands of pages of what would now be consideredhistoric documents were lost. Scanning the old records into anelectronic format would allow copies to survive such catastrophes,he said.

“We have very few documents that date before the late 1800s,”Bishop said. “If a tornado blew this place away or a fire burned itdown, I could reproduce all these documents. We’ve got 30,000 filesthat deal with chancery court matters. If a court file turns upmissing, I can reproduce a file.”

Bishop said all of the electronic copies of documents are backedup daily in two locations – on the courthouse’s own server and atDelta Computers in Jackson, which provides software and technicalsupport to the county.

Jeanie Hoyt, who works for the Windward Group, LLC, of Folsom,La., is performing the grunt work of scanning documents. Shearrived Tuesday to scan the general indices, and will be workingall day for the next month, scanning the 30 volumes page-by-page,front and back, through her Context Chameleon Tx 36 wide formatscanner, a large computer attachment situated on a stand like akeyboard with no keys.

At eight hours per day, Hoyt said she averages one general indexeach day.

“The hardest part is just standing here doing it,” she said.

Hoyt’s scanner converts the documents into .TIF files, common,multi-media image files, which are stored on a 320 GB external harddrive. She takes the hard drive to her company headquarters at theend of each week, where the drive’s files are copied and burnedonto CDs that are returned to the county. The drives are stored atthe company for back-up purposes.

“Once we have everything captured from Lincoln County, we’llnever reuse that hard drive,” Hoyt said. “That way, if there’s aproblem, we’ll be able to go back and we’ll have it.”

The work creates a huge amount of computer files. Hoyt said shegenerally creates 3,500-5,000 .TIF files per week. The files aresmall – about four kilobytes each – but each volume scanned,depending on the size, adds up to around 50 megabytes.

The age of the material sometimes complicates Hoyt’s work. Shehas to tape down frayed edges, and volumes with pages glued intospines have to be taken out of the courthouse and scanned at thecompany offices – a feat she has already done for six generalindices. Thankfully, she said many of the older Lincoln Countyrecords have been laminated.

Some of the old volumes are also mechanical, requiring a key toopen. And there are oddities in the books themselves, Hoyt said.One of the county’s indices contained a nail, another, a toothpick;and each has its share of dead bugs, she said.

But the work, no matter how laborious, is interesting, Hoytsaid.

“I’m not a real big history buff, but I do enjoy history,” shesaid. “In New Iberia (La.), I scanned a book from 1868, the yearthey were incorporated. I learned a lot as I went through it.”

Hoyt said Lincoln County’s old volumes tell their own story.Some volumes have property-hungry names that reappear, while othersnever show the same name twice. Many pages are spattered with inkspills, she said, and the writer’s fingerprints dot the pages.

“It makes you wonder how many people have touched these bookssince 1922,” Hoyt said. “These are very popular books – people arestill doing a lot of searches today.”