Recorder’s Office launches major preservation project
On the surface, daily activities at Buffalo’s Wright County Government Center appear typical. But a flurry of activity is underway in the basement level of the 2nd Street building. A crew of hired digitizers is scanning and indexing the County’s land records, vital records and index books dating back to 1855. A total of 1,100 books will be digitized as this crew works 24/7 for two to three weeks.
County Recorder Tanya West recently spoke at the Board of Commissioners meeting regarding the project. “It’s my responsibility as Recorder to not only have a permanent repository of these, but also the preservation of these records,” West said. The records are currently in a non-climate-controlled environment. She went on to explain that many of the records are indexed and saved on microfiche. The digitizing will make records more accessible to the public, as they will be imported into the land-management (Landshark) system, which will make the search process much smoother.
Another benefit of the scanning will be the ability to improve image quality. In the vendor’s proposal, the company shared a before-and-after image of a record with faded ink which could be darkened. Reverse images (like film negatives) can be flipped to positive, making the documents more readable.
Phase I of this historical scanning project will take about one year and includes enhanced images, cropping, and working with documents that are not legible or water damaged. The next stage will include indexing. Final verification will be completed by Recorder’s staff. This phase has a $480,042 price tag and is included in the Recorder’s Capital Improvement Plan. A portion of the fees that citizens pay on their recorded documents goes to this fund.
A project of this scope and size takes significant preparation. In the past six weeks, West and her staff focused on the separation of documents from envelopes, along with sorting loose papers, labeling and flattening for the scanning crew. There are approximately 30,000 records that have been individually tri-folded and stored in envelopes for several years. They have also been removing old grommets, paper clips and staples of supporting documentation within the books.
The Recorder’s Office has records indexed back to the early 1970’s. When this process is complete, indexes will cover 160+ years of land and vital records.
Staff from the Recorder’s Office are, Back Left: Jeanne Lewandoski, Tanya West, Kelly Day, Kathy Albers, Michelle Thielen. Front Left, Mary Cogley, Anne LaTour, Lori Westphal, Michelle Gardner, Casey Badeaux.