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Digitization of county records starts this month

Over 500 record books from Cape Girardeau County will be scanned and digitized starting Oct 14, according to Recorder of Deeds Drew Blattner. This includes 266 deed books, 216 deed of trust books, 11 military service record books and one plat index book.

The county commission approved the $212,000 project on Sept. 20, with $100,000 of the project being funded through the county’s capital improvement fund and the rest funded by the recorder’s technology fund for the preservation of records.

These books are some of the most used in the office, with people visiting the county’s administration daily to track land ownership. Blattner said this process will help those people access the information from anywhere that has internet access and will help preserve the records even if the physical books are damaged in the future.

Some of the earliest books had been laminated in the past, but with time, they might darken and be harder to read in the future. “With the lamination there, they are somewhat preserved, but if that breaks down you won’t be able to see them 50 years from now,” Blattner said.

While these books primarily deal with the ownership of land, Blattner said there are many other documents recorded that has historical significance. For one, the earliest marriage records are actually in the deed books, as marriage licenses didn’t get their own book until 1806. There is also a book that is nothing but cemetery deed, which is unusual because usually cemeteries keep their own records.

“There will be strange documents that will show up,” Blattner said. “There was a man who went west in the gold rush and he wanted people to know where he went, so he recorded a document saying that he went to California.”

Blattner said one of the reasons the county moved forward with this project now was that the county had already received a grant for digitizing 48 books of marriage records, and both projects could be done by ArcaSearch concurrently.

“The company that was awarded the contract is from Minnesota, so there’s significant travel costs whenever they come on site,” Blattner explained. “It also takes them a full day to set up their equipment and a full day to take down. So instead of paying them to set up and take down their equipment multiple times, it makes sense to do combined projects like this.”

The marriage record project costs $31,000, with half being funded through the Missouri Secretary of State Local Records Preservation Grant Program.

A representative from ArchSearch visited the county on Oct. 1 to assess the records and create a schedule for digitizing the books. More equipment and ArchSearch staff will then arrive in Jackson on Oct. 14.

ArchSearch digitized the county’s deed index books last year, and Blattner said the scans exceeded his expectations. ArchSearch is one of the few companies of its kind that do color scans and the images are presented in a two-page spread. According to Blattner, “It’s like you’re looking at the actual book.”

Blattner said the scanning process will probably take a few months to complete, and ArchSearch will need some time after leaving Jackson to upload the images to the county’s online database and add new features to the website including an e-commerce section to receive copies of the actual records. The indexes, which has the majority of the information needed for research, will remain free.

As part of the grant’s stipulations, the marriage records will have to be uploaded and open to the public by the end of May 2020. Blattner estimated the deed books will be searchable online by the end of July.

Blattner said that after these two projects are completed, the majority of the documents in his office will be digitized. However, he said there is always more work to be done. The office will then focus on digitizing loose-leaf documents located at the archive center, with most of that work being done by volunteers of the recorder’s staff.

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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