FOR THE RECORD: Warren County begins record digitizing project

Published 5:22 pm Thursday, June 22, 2023

The Warren County Chancery Clerk and Circuit Clerk offices will soon be able to provide access to high-resolution digital files of county records dating back to 1807.

Staff with US Imaging spent the past week in the Warren County Courthouse, 24 hours a day, scanning every piece of the county’s property records and marriage licenses from 1807 to 1983. Records from 1983 to the present day were already available digitally.

Chancery Clerk Donna Hardy said Monday the project would benefit county employees, residents and those completing genealogical research.

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“Since I’ve been in the office, the state has been warning us: You have to keep this information until the end of time, and y’all better be coming up with a way to (access records),” Hardy said. “And this is the way.”

US Imaging works in a three-phase process, said company representative Brandon Gonzalez. As part of the first phase, two crews started from the beginning of the county’s records, scanning every scrap of paper in the county’s record books and transforming each one into a high-resolution JPEG image file.

From there, the files are converted to black-and-white TIFF images — a smaller file size that allows counties to maximize their storage capacity.

“Essentially, we’re preserving American history, because all of our county land or records vaults contain physical media from books back before they had the computer,” Gonzalez said. “We go on-site and scan the record books at the county so that those records never leave the county’s possession, which is very important.”

Phases two and three will take place over the next 9 to 12 months. During phase two, the company will process the records and “clean up” files, at times making portions of some documents legible in the digital format when they are no longer legible on the physical copy. This phase also includes the indexing process.

Phase three entails further image enhancements.

While these processes can take up to a year to complete, Gonzalez said Warren County will have access to its digitized files within the next 45 days.

“Within 45 days, they’re going to provide us with (image access) and that will be put in the county system,” Hardy said. “What this will do, is allow (people) to access the index and the documents digitally, whereas before, to access documents, we’d have to pull a physical book.”

Gonzalez said he and Hardy had been discussing a project like this since 2019, but at that time, the project was out of reach due to its $413,200 price tag. However, when Warren County was awarded its allotment of American Relief Plan Act funds ($8.8 million), the project came to light again.

Now, the county is able to fund the record digitizing project — at no cost to its taxpayers. And Warren County isn’t the only one to take advantage of the service, Gonzalez said.

“We’ve done, roughly, work in about a third of the counties in the United States and our goal is to do work in every county if possible,” he said. “There’s a line item in the ARPA funds that says you can use these funds to facilitate remote work options for your staff. So if they had everything digitized, and let’s say someone gets sick … and you had to quarantine for 10 days but you weren’t sick, if they had access to a county computer and the internet, they can essentially work from home and that is a remote work option.

“This project is just a small fraction of the $8.8 million in ARPA funds Warren County received, but it is money the county does not have to spend out of their budget.”