note: This was written some time ago and was intended as fiction, food for thought, or a warning. Take your pick.

Jefferson County—A Digitized County

(c) 2010 Michael John Neill

(do NOT copy/paste without permission)

Jefferson County Historical Society Meeting, 1 April 2010, secretary’s minutes

“The monthly meeting was brought to order…..

“Michael Neill mentioned that his human ‘sources’ at the courthouse indicate there is a move to digitize all the records before 1900. While he feels this is a good thing, he is concerned that the original records may be destroyed after the scanning and that there might be a variety of problems with the scanning itself (he mentioned something about someone’s brother-in-law, but I didn’t get that part recorded). After discussion, it was decided that the society does not have adequate computer knowledge to deal with this matter and that it will be tabled…”

Jefferson County Examiner, 1 April 2011

The Jefferson County Board today authorized the scanning and digitization of all pre-1900 records at the courthouse. We Scan For Less, of Dallas, Texas, will begin scanning the records as soon as their work schedule allows. For the time being all access to records pre-1900 will be limited, as authorized by the County Board.

While no opposition to the project was expressed, representatives from the Jefferson County Historical Society indicated that the records needed to be inventoried, cataloged, and organized before scanning began. The Board saw no need to delay the project in this fashion. Kevin Hanson, county courthouse chairman indicated the urgent need to begin the project as soon as possible and that “all the records are there and they will be scanned. This organization is a delaying tactic.” Vocal opposition was expressed by Michael Neill, society member, but there was no further discussion by the Board.

Jefferson County Examiner, 23 June 2012

The Jefferson County Board today authorized the recycling of all records created before 1900 today at their regular board meeting. Beginning next Monday, old county records will be systematically placed in the courthouse’s “blue bins” and sent to Waste Management, Inc. for re-use in consumer products. “Imagine, if you will,” said Kevin Hanson, courthouse committee chairman, “that great-grandma’s marriage license will go to make your next grocery bag. It will give new meaning to the phrase ‘paper or plastic.’”

Before the vote on recycling, Michael Neill, radical activist with the Jefferson County Historical Society, staged a disruptive protest. He was quickly removed from the chambers by sheriff’s deputies, and the meeting went on without further incident. Charges against Neill are pending. Reached by phone this morning, Neill’s only comment was “maybe they’ll scan my arraignment papers and misfile those too.”

The pre-1900 records have all been digitized and are stored on CD-ROMs available at the courthouse and the local library. This more efficient means of storing the information was lauded by Chairman Hanson as providing a cost-effective measure saving the taxpayers thousands of dollars a year in maintenance fees. “Besides, the old records are a fire hazard. The CDs will not easily burn and Mr. Neill can quit complaining about people smoking near the old records.”

Jefferson County Genealogist, Fall 2012 Edition, “News Bulletin”

An in-depth analysis of the CD-ROM materials at the Jefferson County Courthouse indicates that there are problems with the scanning of the records. Some materials, while scanned, are not labeled correctly and some records are apparently out of order. Deed Book 102 appears to not have been scanned at all and the marriage records between 1840 and 1860 have significant portions that are barely legible. It is unknown whether this was due to the condition of the original records. As the records have been destroyed, there is no recourse and the records are effectively lost. Society members are currently analyzing the CD-ROMs for further difficulties and a complete listing of irregularities will appear in our next issue. The company that scanned the records has filed bankruptcy.

Jefferson County Examiner, 1 April 2034

It has been discovered today that the digital copies of all pre-1900 documents at the Jefferson County Courthouse are somehow deteriorating. The original CDs have “data irregularities” which are being analyzed by computer professionals at the local university. There are duplicate copies of the CDs which are being located and analyzed to determine if they contain similar defects. It is hoped that other copies do not have the problems that have been located on the master records. For the time being, those inquiring about local records before 1900 are referred to the Jefferson County Historical Society which has been abstracting the digitized records for some time and creating a variety of indexes. Their collection, according to a spokeswoman, is “incomplete, but we have done the best we could and have indexed thousands of records. We are grateful for the ease of digitized access, but wish the County Board in 2000 had treated the digitization process with more care. If they had, we probably would not have the problem we do today.”

Jefferson County Examiner, 1 April 2035

A spokesperson for the Jefferson County Courthouse confirmed today that a significant proportion of the digital images from the pre-1900 records are virtually unreadable. Computer professionals and computer archivists have been called in from the East and West Coast and have been unable to determine the problem or to remedy it. Michael Neill, longtime radical records activist, could not be reached for comment. A nursing spokesmen at Shady Pines Retirement Center said he was under “heavy sedation” and unable to take calls.

Federation of Genealogical Society’s Annual Conference 2036 flyer

Louella Smith’s session will cover “Research Techniques for Digitized Counties: Not all that Different from Burned Ones. Jefferson County as a Case Study.”

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6 Responses

  1. Our county microfilmed all the records before 1973, some many years ago and the oldest microfilm is getting bad now. They said they have digitized all of the microfilm, and was going to post it online, when the recession hit and since then they have done nothing. There are copies of the microfilm in the state and regional archives, but off limits to the public.

  2. Nothing is permanent, but it seems to me that the original records will outlast (heaven forbid a fire or flood!) any of today’s digital media. I think of all the changes in computer systems and media since I got my first computer in 1989!

  3. This would or could be horrible for any County, State or Historical Society. With that said, granted the cost of scanning is enormous, the original records – should be housed somewhere safe at a different location. I know of a southern MS county that had there records scanned by LDS/Family Search – and the old records are now kept elsewhere. – thank goodness, as if not found on Familysearch..org (most still not on a index search – per page only) or on the MS State Archives (with limited to find and the cost $$) – all would be lost. Am thankful to the County officials – that are storing the originals.

  4. Can’t the same be said for our personal research? I love my paper copies! I distrust the computer (my competency, or lack of, and future availabilities to read the data – CDs are already on the way out), the cloud (which ones will still be around 50 years from now) and subscription online trees (again which ones will still be around and accessible without the long term fees to keep updated). Yes, I do digitize, but I do not view it as the best long term survival method of keeping my research data and pictures. It is good for quick sharing.

    • Very true. Those of us who have compiled information need to think about the long term survival of that information as well. Digital is, exactly as you say, great for quick sharing but the long term storage issues are another matter.

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