Digitizing 214,000 Dauphin County documents took 2,000 hours

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Digitizing County documents

It took Dauphin County nearly six months to scan and digitize 213,667 marriage licenses. It’s expected to take between two and three years to do the same for 10,000 descriptive property records awaiting the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County.

In Northumberland County, where there are boxes upon boxes of courthouse records sitting in the damp basement, government officials are looking for options to preserve those important historical documents.

Forty of the state’s 67 counties have worked with IMR Digital to harness technology to improve productivity and preserve records, said an IMR Digital representative.

The amount of time and effort to accomplish a county’s goal of saving records depends on the age and condition of the original record, he said.

“Typically, in court-related documents, the records are tri-folded and stuck into small bins. In many cases, those documents have not been taken out or unfolded in 100 years,”said an IMR Digital representative.

Scanning is the easy part

Records like this require a lot of preparation, which often take more time than the actual scanning and digital conversation, he said.

IMR has dealt with records that pre-date the United States’ birth in 1776.

A price or time line cannot be determined until knowing the amount and conditions of Northumberland County’s records.

Joe Patterson, executive director of the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County, said the organization is working in three phases to digitize more than 10,000 descriptive property records.

The Trust has placed its 559-page “Our Present Past” online.

The book, compiled in 1985, is a collection of short summaries of surveys of the county’s historic properties performed during the 1970s and 1980s.

The summaries in the book cover between 80 percent and 90 percent of the roughly 10,000 properties in the trust’s files.

Phase One was getting the book online, but Phase Two will be scanning all of the trust’s original 10,000 documents and photographs, which may take up to three years, Patterson said.

The project is expected to cost about $50,000, he said.

Jean Marfizo King, prothonotary of Dauphin County, said all records in her office are digitized from 2006 to the present, and she had to set fees in order to scan more than 213,000 marriage licenses as far back as 1885.

“It was a major chore,” she said. “Quality was important in the process.”

The office is scanning estate information starting in the 1700s, she added.

8 hours daily, 8 months

While it took a subcontractor working eight hours a day for at least eight months to scan the marriage licenses, the department staff is scanning the estate records when it has free moments, King said.

Her predecessor has all estate records from 1985 scanned, she said.

King said she’s not sure how much time it will take to digitize those records, but if they can scan three years’ worth of records in one calender year, she would consider it a “good undertaking.”

“Those records are timeless,” she said, “and now they’re preserved.”

Spacing has been an issue as well, King added.

Any older records with no historical value will now be stored in a newly-purchased warehouse, she said.

Earlier this year, some Northumberland County officials announced that the Degenstein Foundation was pledging $1 million to preserve the county’s deteriorating historical records, but it was confirmed a few weeks ago that the donation was intended for the Northumberland County Historical Society as it prepares for expansion.

The county records, some of which date to the 1700s, are stored in the basement of the courthouse.

The push to preserve those records was spearheaded by a several people from Chester County, who are doing genealogy work.

Change records storage

Linda Miller, who came to Northumberland County from Chester County to do genealogy work, has implored the commissioners to change their records storage because of the deplorable conditions.

Miller has said she harbors no ill feelings toward the county or the society, and the efforts to preserve Northumberland County’s records is still a goal worth pursuing.

She said she was told a committee meeting with President Judge William Wiest, Register and Recorder Mary Zimmerman, Deputy Prothonotary Geraldine Yagle, Assistant Solicitor John Muncer and Scott A. Heintzelman, president of the Northumberland County Historical Society, was being held this week to discuss the options moving forward.

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