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Digital Age Record Keeping at County Courthouse

One of Several Filled Walls

 

 

How long do you hang on to your private papers? Do you have IRS returns from 20 years ago, a sales receipt for a mattress you bought six years back?  How about an instruction manual for a dishwasher you replaced last year?

150 pages per minute, after you separate them from the book

Since 1889, past Clerk and Recorders have been storing various records of transactions in Prowers County, bound in large filing books specially constructed for the task. Just about every county in the country probably has stacks of them stored away in case someone needs to look up a transaction.  They take up a lot of space and that’s just one reason why Jana Coen, Prowers County Clerk and Recorder, realized the need for more room as well as a quicker avenue to retrieve that information online.

Jana Coen, County Clerk & Recorder

Coen applied for, and was awarded a $346,605.50 grant to accomplish the task of digitizing almost every record transacted in the county between 1889 and July 1, 1994. “That’s when we started to transfer our records with digital technology,” she explained.  Coen said there have been times when demands for past records were pretty significant and it’s time consuming to go to a large index book to determine which other book the particular contract or deed or other filing was located.  “Our filing system started with the number one book and we’re up to number 500.  We don’t have everything on record, such as birth information, but there are maps, divorce papers, marriage certificates and sales and deeds for property.”

Additional Digitizing Copiers

The storeroom is spacious, but every wall, from floor to just about the ceiling is covered with these large, heavy books. There’s even a wooden board measuring about one and a half by two feet that contain dozens of keys on hooks.  “They were there when I became Clerk and I have no idea what doors they fit.  They probably don’t even have them in the county anymore, but just in case, I’m not throwing them away,” she explained.

Coen said the sizable grant is paying for two teams of technicians who are working around the clock from 7am to 7pm and back to 7am, turning the pages of each of the 500 books, scanning them into special copiers. “They started on August 8th with one team working the day shift and the other team comes in after the courthouse is closed and pick up where the other team stopped.  It’s non-stop until they’re done.”

One part of the process is disassembling some of the books into separate pages which are fed into a special copier that can run through 150 pages a minute. A book is recorded, put back together and the technician takes another one and starts taking it apart for digitizing.

Coen said the grant will also pay to sustain the current system until a new upgrade to retrieve the information is available. “We need to catalogue the information to make it computer accessible by the public.  There may be a fee for that service and we’ll have that ready to go when the image hosts for internet access begins in 2020.”

By Russ Baldwin

Filed Under: CountyFeaturedHistory

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