Clarification: Rockdale County's historical court records were recorded on microfilm by the administration of previous Clerk of Courts Joanne Caldwell and stored at the Georgia Archives. The current administration of Clerk of Courts Ruth Wilson is working on a project to scan and digitize the historical court records and create a climate-controlled storage space for the physical records.
One of Rockdale County’s most precious historical treasures is in danger of being lost forever.
The county’s records for its first 100 years of existence are deteriorating rapidly with age and Rockdale County Clerk of Courts Ruth Wilson is attempting to preserve them.
Her plan is to treat the old records with a preservation process and then store the restored books in a climate controlled building. She also wants to make digital copies of the records so the public can access them online.
“You can really understand a lot about a community by looking at these records,” said Wilson. “This is irreplaceable.”
Right now, the majority of the county’s records are housed in the Real Estate room of the Rockdale County Courthouse, 922 Court Street, Conyers, but Wilson claims this room and the building in general is no place to keep the county records.
“The books are vulnerable just because they are sitting here. Anybody can walk out with it, tear it, write on it, whatever,” she said. “So we’re trying to protect these records. There will still be some paper records in here, but for the most part we’re going to go digital.”
The majority of the county’s property and criminal and civil court records have a digitized version. In total there are 4,200 county record books, with only 145 still awaiting digitization and 230 currently in the process.
All records from 1976 to the present are at least filed in the county computer system, so if the physical original copy becomes damaged or misplaced there’s a backup, said Wilson, but, all records before that year have no digital backup.
Some of the pages of these books are stained, brittle, torn and are literally being held together with clear Scotch tape.
“Everything before (1976) is paper only. The first one hundred years is vulnerable,” said Wilson. “Every time you try to turn the page it would tear it a little bit more.”
It takes about a week and $1,000 to breathe new life into an old record book. A specialized contractor pulls out each page of the book individually to fix any rips or tears on the page and removes the acid from the page to stop it from deteriorating any further.
Each page is then run through a large scanner to make a digital version to store on the county servers. Once the page is digitized, it is placed back into a record with plastic covering for each page.
“It’s the original copy, but it’s restored and preserved,” said Wilson.
Wilson has been working on digitization the records since she was elected to office in 2009, but her initiative to create a new records center where all the county’s records could be stored for safe keeping came from a fire that happened in Hancock County, Ga. this year.
On Aug. 11, a fire at the Hancock County Courthouse destroyed a lot of the county’s records.
A Hancock County official said much of the criminal and civil court records were lost, along with a lot of the divorce records. Some property records were already in the system.
The fire occurred at 3 a.m. and it’s still undetermined how it was started.
That disaster made Wilson aware of how vulnerable Rockdale County’s own records were and how much the community could lose if something were to happen to those physical records.
The new records center will be a renovated empty space at the Government Annex building at 1400 Parker Road. The area will be climate controlled and will mitigate the likelihood of the records being damaged over time.
The Rockdale County Board of Commissioners approved a $100,000 request from Wilson to fund the renovation project in its 2015 capital budget.
Wilson says she hopes to move many of the records in the Real Estate room into the new records center, and then the additional could be used to bring in more computers that will be used access the digitized files.
Editor's Note and Clarification: Rockdale County's historical court records were recorded on microfilm by the administration of previous Clerk of Courts Joanne Caldwell and stored at the Georgia Archives. The current administration of Clerk of Courts Ruth Wilson is working on a project to scan and digitize the historical court records and create a climate-controlled storage space for the physical records.