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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Preserving the past through restoration and technology: Register of Deeds requesting $215,000 to restore county records

The county's Register of Deeds maintains historic documents including birth certificates and death records for the entire county (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)
The county’s Register of Deeds maintains historic documents including birth certificates and death records for the entire county (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

WILMINGTON — Traveling back in time is easier than most people think. Okay, so maybe not in the science fiction sense, but for those wanting a glimpse into the past of New Hanover County you need only walk into the inconspicuous building located next to City Hall — The New Hanover County Register of Deeds.

Tucked away in the back of 320 Chestnut Street you will find rows upon rows of historical documents dating back to the beginning of the county in what is known as the vault.

Maintaining historical records is an important part of preserving the history a society — from the Declaration of Independence to simple birth records they help tell the story of the people in a society — but when documents are handled over and over they inevitably begin to deteriorate.

In order to maintain proper records sometimes document restoration services are required which is what the New Hanover County Register of Deeds Tammy Beasley is requesting the Board of Commissioners approve — to the tune of $214,964.

For Beasley, an elected official, maintaining and preserving county records is a personal mission.

“When I was elected, one of my missions was to preserve these records because they had not been restored in over 30 years. I worked as a paralegal for 25 years researching records at the Register of Deeds office and at times remember pages actually falling out of the books because they were in such a dilapidated state,” she said. “These records belong to the citizens and I want them to have access at all times by preserving them for future generations.”

What comes with the cost?

Handwritten property records, birth records and more can be found dating back decades at the Register of Deeds vault (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)
Handwritten property records, birth records and more can be found dating back decades at the Register of Deeds vault. (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

So, what does almost $215,000 get county residents, and where does the funding come from?

The restoration, rebinding, and repairing of 72 county record books that are in “desperate and dire need of repair due to years of constant handling and use.”

The request would give the task of restoring these public documents to the company Kofile Technologies.

“The vendor we use is in the state so our records do not leave our area and they retrieve and deliver the books personally. This vendor works with more than half of the Register of Deeds offices in the state, including surrounding counties,” Beasley said.

According to a proposal from Kofile, “Kofile is the nation’s oldest firm specializing in the preservation of legal and historical public records in the U.S.”

Documents would undergo a restoration process that includes museum-quality services including temperature and humidity measuring, rebinding, and mending of torn paper — just to name a few.

The funding to maintain and repair historical documents is actually set aside in state statute and comes from fees collected by the register of deeds, according to General Statute 161-11.3.

“Ten percent of the fees collected pursuant to G.S. 161-10 and retained by the county, or six dollars and twenty cents ($6.20) in the case of a fee collected pursuant to G.S.161-10(a)(1a) for the first page of a deed of trust or mortgage, shall be set aside annually and placed in a nonreverting Automation Enhancement and Preservation Fund, the proceeds of which shall be expended on computer or imaging technology and needs associated with the preservation and storage of public records in the office of the register of deeds. Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect the duty of the board of county commissioners to furnish supplies and equipment to the office of the register of deeds.

Digitizing and other forms of preservation

Previously restored documents include copies and lamination (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)
Previously restored documents include copies and lamination (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

But restoration services to this extent are not the only option when it comes to document preservation. Digitizing of documents through scanning and laminating, and recreating a color facsimile has been used for county records in the past and can be found at the register of deeds public document vault.

“Since I took office, I have been submitting books for repair in order of condition.  When I was entrusted with these records some were being held together with rubber bands and were in very bad condition, crumbling and tearing. As the custodian of these records, I will continue to protect them for the future,” Beasley said.

The 72 different record books in question date back as early as 1927 and as late as 1954, but there are plenty of other records in the vault that date back further, many of which have undergone some sort of restoration.

The records themselves are also available in digital format, Beasley said, but protecting the originals is important.

“Our records are in digital format but again these records need to be protected. We may be one of the smallest counties in the state but we are in the top 5 for the number of record books. New Hanover County is very fortunate to have these funds available for preservation,” she said.


Send comments and tips to Michael.p@localvoicemedia.com

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