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County to digitize marriage records

Cape Girardeau County marriage licenses dating back to 1806 will be
digitized, starting this winter. The Cape Girardeau County Commission approved
ArcaSearch, a Minnesota-based company to come on-site at the county admiration
building to digitize 37 marriage record books and 11 index books.


Recorder of Deeds Drew Blattner said ArcaSearch, which was the
lowest bidder for the project, is one of the best document preservation
companies in the country and had worked with the county last year to digitize
the county’s 86 land deed index books.


Blattner said ArcaSearch is one of the few digitizing companies
that produce color images and scan two-page spreads, making the digital copy
look as similar to the original book as possible. He added that the company has
equipment that can flatten the book and remove glares, which the County would
not be able to do on its own.


As part of the approved project, ArcaSearch will import the digital
images into a searchable Web site, and add an e-commerce portion to the Web
site to allow the County to charge for digital copies of the marriage licenses.


“The index books will be completely free,” Blattner said. “You can
get most of the information you need off of them at no charge. We will have to
charge for the actual documents, because that’s how we get some of our funding
to do this stuff.”


Blattner said plain copies of marriage licenses would cost around
$2 and certified copies would cost $9, matching the in-person costs currently
being charged.


He said the new system will
be much easier for those who are out of state to access these documents for
genealogical purposes, but the major reason to digitize the documents is to
avoid losing the records to age or a disaster.


“What if something happens to these books,” Blattner asked. “What
if we have a tornado or a fire or the sprinklers get hit and there’s water
damage? Once those records are gone, they’re gone.”


The books that are digitized also come with portable hard-drives
that back up the images at the Recorder’s Office and at the Archive Center. As
part of the grant funding, the state also receives a microfilm copy of the
documents.


“We try to keep as many copies out there, so … if something
happened, we can rest assured that several hundred years from now, all these
documents will still be preserved and available,” Blattner said.


The marriage index books cover 1806 to 1991, while the marriage
license books that will be digitized go up to 1968.

In 1968, the county started using copies of the marriage licenses
in the books, so the books past then will not be digitized, Instead, Loose-leaf
marriage licenses from 1968 to 1991 are currently in the process of being
digitized by the recorder’s office staff and a volunteer.


The project will cost $31,091, with $15,545 being funded through
the Missouri Secretary of State Local Records Preservation Grant Program.
Blattner said the County has used grant funding previously to digitize the land
deed index books and military discharge records. There will also be an annual
increase of $1,802 in online maintenance fees.


Besides the 48 marriage license books that will be digitized and
the 86 deed index books already searchable on the county’s historical research
site, there are still around 500 land deed books to digitize, as well as
additional loose-leaf records.


Blattner said there is a possible plan where the land deed books
could also be digitized this winter, so ArcaSearch could do all the work in one
trip.


“If they could do the marriage books and the deed of trust books at
the same time, there would be a reduced cost because they would only be
traveling from Minnesota once,” Blattner said. “Anytime they come on site, it
takes them a full day to set up their equipment and a full day to take it down,
so you have that additional cost as well.”


Blattner said he has approximately $180,000 in a preservation and
technology fund that could go towards digitizing the additional books, but it
would take additional funds from the County to fully fund the land deed book project.


Blattner explained that while the recorder’s office generates more
than $500,000 a year through fees, the majority of the proceeds go to the state
or other county funds. “We only get to keep about $15,000 of it,” he said.
“Without additional funding, it will take us another 20 years to generate
enough funds to get these books done.”


He added that he would continue to look for grants to fund future
digitization projects. “Even when these books are digitized, we still will have
all the loose-leaf ones that still have to be done,” Blattner said. “It seems
like there will always be something.”

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past four years. He can be reached at cbjedit@socket.net.

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