County wants to cleanup records

January 15, 2003|by STACEY DANZUSO

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The basement of the Franklin County Courthouse is jammed with old documents - wills, deeds and court records - that date as far back as 1784.

The county hopes to hire a professional archivist to begin taking inventory of and preserving the documents next year with a state grant.

The county would also use some of the funds it has accumulated from a $5 user fee collected when deeds and other documents are filed with the courthouse, county recorder Linda Miller said.


Since the state enacted a law in 1998 requiring the collection for the County Record Improvement Fund, Franklin County has amassed $140,000, Miller said.

The county applied in December to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for a $20,000 grant, but it will not hear until September if it will receive any funds, said Kelly Livermore, assistant county administrator.

The county applied for the grant last year but was rejected in part because the scope of its proposal was too large, Livermore said.

She said the pending application narrows the focus to documents from 1784 to 1900.

"Instead of taking all of the county's records, we identified records by years," she said.

The funding would allow the county to hire an archivist to get the project started.

That would be the first step in preserving the documents in a safe setting and weeding out documents the county is not required to keep.

"We do have quite a few old records. We need to find out what is necessary to preserve," said Bill Vandrew, Clerk of Courts.

"There are probably a lot of unnecessary things. We need an expert in here to determine that," Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said.

Miller said she has old wills in boxes that date back to 1785, while Sheriff Robert Wollyung said he has seen dockets and warrant books from the early 1900s.

"That is what the grant is about. We need to get someone in here to go through it," Vandrew said. "We're just busting at the seams with paperwork."

Elliott suggested asking a legislator to contact the commission to let them know the county is serious about moving forward.

"We'll be disappointed if next year at this time we're in the same boat," he said.

The ultimate goal is to have the documents inventoried and stored appropriately to prevent further deterioration. Miller said she constantly receives requests from people who want to sift through the material for genealogy research.

Livermore said the county needs to take steps to protect for the future what past officials had the foresight to preserve.

"When Chambersburg was burned (in 1864), those in charge had the wherewithal to preserve records by moving them out and then moving them back," she said.

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