Town’s records, some more than 200 years old, now going digital
by Jack Deming
Sep 26, 2013 | 2750 views | 0 0 comments | 73 73 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Town clerk Susie Haughwout points to an entry in one of Wilmington’s town record books from the 1700s. The page shows various ear markings that were used to identify pigs belonging to families in the town.
Town clerk Susie Haughwout points to an entry in one of Wilmington’s town record books from the 1700s. The page shows various ear markings that were used to identify pigs belonging to families in the town.
WILMINGTON- Earlier this month, the town was approved for its third Community Development Block grant this year, one that will help fund the digitization of all permanent town records as well as others that are considered “long-term retention.”

The CDBG will cover $157,542 of the estimated project cost of $173,296, while the town will cover $15,574 using the matching grant line item in the town budget.

According to town manager Scott Murphy, the project can begin after the town verifies it has met grant conditions, puts out a request for proposals, and chooses a bidder. Then, scanning the town’s approximately 200,000 pages of permanent records can begin, a process Murphy said would be “the quicker, the better.”

“At the end of the process, the final product will be a searchable documentation record library consisting of all the town records,” said Murphy. “This is a safeguard against future flooding because while still in the building, the records are susceptible to floods.”

The first two CDBGs the town received are considered planning grants. One will fund a co-relocation feasibility study for the fire and police departments, the other, a feasibility study for the current Twin Valley High School building, which will be vacant at the end of the school year once the new high school building is completed.

This most recent grant is for implementation, allowing the town to act almost immediately on the digitization project. According to Murphy, the town could be as little as two months away from beginning the process of digitization.

The firm chosen to complete the imaging will work on-site in the town office, creating the database, scanning the records individually, and adding them to an online portal, which will be free for the public to use online.

Since May 7, the town has been digitizing all new permanent records, while prior to Tropical Storm Irene, land records from 2004-2010 were also imaged. Town clerk Susie Haughwout, who was instrumental in saving the town records during Tropical Storm Irene by moving them to the building’s second floor, says the records are always vulnerable.

“To be fair, even if we move records out of the town office, we’ll still digitize the records to make sure they go on forever and make sure there’s a safe place you can retrieve them from in case of disaster,” said Haughwout.

“Another thing that is an enemy of paper more than 200 years old is people’s hands, and another is the light from a photocopier,” continued Haughwout. “The less handling of fragile records the better. If we can have it done once, and be able to retrieve it from a single base, we can preserve them better while utilizing the information the same way.”

The town did lose some late 19th century and early 20th century grand lists in the flood, while other documents were damaged in the flood of 1938. The town’s oldest records kept in the town office date as far back as 1779.

While the records must be kept on site in the safe under state statute, Haughwout says the process will make their accessibility more convenient for everyone, while also keeping up with the times.

“Everyone is so used to getting data from the web, and being able to get records on the web is a huge benefit for anyone. Many clerks around the state are moving toward digital images, but we still have to watch the migration of that over time, and be ready to migrate from one technology to another.”
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