Tarrant County, Texas, is Digitizing Old Court Records for Preservation

Tarrant County, Texas, court files are continuing a years-long effort to make electronic copies of old case files and to destroy most of the paper counterparts. However, a few documents of “famous files” are being digitized but the paper is then preserved.

Tarrant County includes the courts for Dallas and nearby suburbs. Over the years, many famous cases have been aired in the courts of the county, including cases involving the late, famed attorney Melvin Belli who was prevented from representing Jack Ruby, who shot Lee Harvey Oswald. Dozens of other famous files are being preserved, including the Cullen Davis trials in which he was prosecuted for the slaying of his estranged wife’s daughter and in a murder-for-hire scheme in the 1970s; and the Koslow trial, where Kristi Ann Koslow and friends Brian Dennis Salter and Jeffrey Dillingham were convicted of killing her step-mother, Caren, and injuring her father, Jack.

New Data Storage Method Could Preserve Digital Information for Millions of Years

I have written several times about the pros and cons of storing digital data versus using paper or other forms of storage media. Newsletter readers have been active posting opinions and suggestions in the Comments Section at the end of those articles. A new storage method developed by at ETH Zurich should satisfy the needs of all of us.

Taking inspiration from the way fossilized bones can preserve genetic material for hundreds of thousands of years, researchers have developed a “synthetic fossil” by writing digital information on DNA and then encapsulating it in a protective layer of glass. Researchers believe the data will then be readable for millions of years, assuming compatible hardware is still available in the future.

Fire at Brooklyn Warehouse Could Take a Week or More to Fully Put Out

We often read stories about public records being destroyed by fire, flood, hurricane, or other disasters. However, in the past week we seem to have set a new record: three repositories destroyed by fire, one small one and two huge ones. Here is the latest such report:

More than 50 units and almost 300 firefighters called to extinguish the seven-alarm fire in a massive blaze at a Brooklyn warehouse on Saturday. Help was needed from a marine unit as well. The facility stored millions of boxes of public paper records, which acted as kindling, allowing the fire to spread quickly and to resist attempts to put out the flames.

Fire in Major Russian Library Destroys One Million Historic Documents

A fire that ripped through one of Russia’s largest university libraries is believed to have damaged more than one million historic documents, with some describing the fire as a cultural “Chernobyl”.

The blaze, which began on Friday and was still not completely out on Saturday evening, ravaged 2,000 square metres (21,500 sq ft) of the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences (Inion) in Moscow, which was created in 1918 and holds 10 million documents, some of which date back to the 16th century.

British Library opens National Newspaper Building

The British Library opened a new long-term home for UK national newspaper collection last week. The facility is huge. It appears to be the latest, state-of-the-art facility featuring robotic cranes to retrieve newspapers from shelving that are 20 metres (65 feet) high. Of course, it has temperature and humidity controls, as one might expect in any archival facility.

In reading about the new facility, one thing jumped out at me: the newspapers are stored in a dark, airtight, low-oxygen environment, both for preservation purposes and to eliminate the risk of fire. Apparently, humans are unable to breath within the stacks unless they are equipped with oxygen tanks. Items are normally retrieved by robotic cranes, which transfer stacks of newspapers via an airlock to a retrieval area where staff can remove requested items and send them either to the British Library Newsroom at St Pancras or the on-site Reading Room at Boston Spa.

The following is the press release issued by the British Library:

Preserve Your Family Documents and Photos at RootsTech 2015

RootsTech 2015 will be a 3-day event offering more than 200 classes; an expo hall of hundreds of exhibitors and sponsors, including interactive booths to assist in your family history journey; general sessions with well-known and inspiring speakers; and entertaining events at the end of each day. See my earlier article at for details.

One vendor in this year’s exhibits hall, EZ Photo-Scan, is inviting all attendees to bring their family pictures, documents, and any memorabilia that can be digitized, for free scanning on site.

Perkins County, Nebraska, Newspaper Digitization Project is being Expanded

Perkins County is about to be permanently written with the announcement of a grant given to the Hastings Memorial Library in Grant. Thanks to a grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, the Hastings Memorial Library to receive the gift. Robin Quinn, Hastings Memorial Library Director, plans to use the funds to continue the ongoing Local Newspaper Digitization project.

Van Buren County, Tennessee Offices Destroyed by Fire, Birth, Marriage, Death, and Many Other Records Lost

It is a sad day for genealogists as another burnt courthouse is added to the list of records lost. Van Buren County, Tennessee, officials are scrambling after a huge fire destroyed the county administrative building in Spencer on Wednesday night. Historical records from the 1840s and later were destroyed, including Civil War artifacts, pictures from the Civil War, birth certificates, death certificates, and thousands of historical records. The local historical society also was housed in the building and lost everything as well.

“It’s a total loss,” said Van Buren County 911 director David Chandler. “We were able to salvage a couple old books and a few other items from the trustee’s office, but that was about it.” The fire was believed to have started in the historical society and then spread throughout the building.

One bit of good news: Mayor Wilson told news reporters county records are backed up on hard drives in different locations across the county in the event of situations just like this. That’s good news for keeping the county’s business affairs operational but I was unable to find any mention if older, historical records are backed up in a similar manner. Hopefully, the older records also are backed up as well.

MyHeritage’s Efforts at Digitizing Cemeteries

MyHeritage, the exclusive sponsor of this newsletter, has mounted a major effort to preserve and digitize cemeteries worldwide, with the help of some friends. This is expected to be a multi-year effort. A major milestone has already been met with the ambitious goal to digitize Israel’s largest cemetery, Holon, collaborating with genealogy companies, genealogy organizations, societies and other volunteers who love genealogy. It was one of the largest events of its kind ever organized – in the world!

Digitizing Israel’s largest cemetery, Holon.

A Preservation Problem

Do you plan to leave your genealogy records for use by others after your death? If so, what storage method will you use for the information?

Paper doesn’t work too well. Today’s acid-based paper will probably last only for fifty to one hundred years or so. Even worse, toner used by modern laser printers and photocopy machines will only last ten to twenty years although the paper itself will last longer. Nobody will be able to read the paper documents if the toner has faded.

Archival quality paper with high-quality ink will last more than 100 years, but such ink is not readily available for computer printers. Would you want to write your entire genealogy by hand? Using a fountain pen?

57,000 Photo Studio Negatives in Richland, WA to be Destroyed

Get them while you can! Much genealogical information will be lost unless it is claimed now by an interested party.

Negatives from photos shot by professional photographers between 1950 to 2007y donated to the REACH Center in Richland, Washington, from 1950-2007, are being deaccessioned. All unclaimed negatives will be destroyed. The center has extended the deadline to December 5 after receiving more than 500 requests for photo negatives within two days of a Monday Tri-City Herald story about the negatives.

Connecticut State Library Seeks To Digitize World War I History and You Can Help

For those who lived through it, on the battlefield or the home front, World War I was a life-defining event, and the Connecticut State Library wants to assure that family-held memories and mementos will be preserved and available to historians, students, genealogists or the simply curious. Beginning later this month, state library officials will hold a series of community events at which local residents are urged to bring in family letters, photographs, diaries, recorded stories and other objects from the World War I period.

Pipe Burst Destroys Books

Many genealogists, archivists, public officials often think the best way to save records for many years is to print the information on paper. However, paper is one of the most fragile storage methods available, as demonstrated recently in Watertown, NY.

Some 300 books were destroyed when a pipe burst in the basement of the Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library. A pipe from the heating and air conditioning system burst late in the afternoon, causing as much as three inches of water to end up on the floor. Fortunately, a couple of building maintenance workers were nearby when the pipe burst and acted quickly to control the leak. Had the leak occurred when the building was unoccupied, the damage could have been far worse.

Multispectral Imaging Decodes a Burnt Magna Carta for First Time in 283 Years

Click on the above image to view a larger version.

More than 280 years after it was damaged in a fire, one of the original copies of the Magna Carta is legible again. There were four copies of the document created at the time. One, held by the British Library, was badly damaged in a fire in 1731. That copy can now be read on a computer screen after scientists used multispectral imaging to decipher the text of the “Burnt Magna Carta” without touching or further damaging the delicate parchment.

Multispectral imaging is a process that photographed the burnt parchment, using a variety of LED lights, spanning the spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared, outside the range of human vision. The various images each produces a few clues to the original ink. By combining the multiple images, text that is invisible to the naked eye is suddenly visible.

The Plan to Digitize the Vast Holdings of the National Archives

Writing in his blog, David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, describes a simple, but audacious initiative: to digitize the analog records of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and to make them available for online public access. He writes:

“We have over 12 billion pages of records, so yes, this is our moon shot.

“To achieve this goal, we know we need to think in radically new ways about our processes, and we have started by creating a new digitization strategy. From the time we published our 2008 digitization strategy through today, we have scanned over 230 million objects. This is a huge number, but we have a long road ahead. Our new strategy pushes us further.”

Saturday, October 18, is Home Movie Day

Do you have old home movies created by familiar members some years ago? If so, mark this date on your calendar: October 18, 2014.

Shot on 8 mm, Super 8, and 16 mm film, the movies often contain cherished family memories and invaluable social and historical images, but few people have the equipment to view them. Fewer still know how to maintain them for future generations.

If you do not see the video above on your screen, you can watch it at:

According to the Center for Home Movies’ web site: Home Movie Day is a celebration of amateur films and filmmaking held annually at many local venues worldwide. Home Movie Day events provide the opportunity for individuals and families to see and share their own home movies with an audience of their community, and to see their neighbors’ in turn. It’s a chance to discover why to care about these films and to learn how best to care for them. Home Movie Day is a celebration of amateur films and filmmaking held annually at many local venues worldwide. Home Movie Day events provide the opportunity for individuals and families to see and share their own home movies with an audience of their community, and to see their neighbors’ in turn. It’s a chance to discover why to care about these films and to learn how best to care for them.”

How NOT to Store a Town’s Records

Smithtown, New York, may have learned an expensive lesson. Genealogists, historians, title search companies, attorneys, and more will also encounter difficulties because of improper storage of important documents. Tax files, birth and death certificates and other documents waterlogged from last month’s record rainfall may cost Smithtown hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore, officials said.

An estimated 301 boxes and 85 ledger books from the town clerk’s, assessor’s and comptroller’s offices were damaged in the Aug. 13 storm that dumped more than 13 inches of rain on parts of Long Island, said Smithtown Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski. Several inches of water flooded the basement areas where the documents were stored.

One Person Works to Preserve the Records of the District Clerk of Houston and of Harris County, TX

David Furlow has written about the great effort of Francisco Heredia, Team Leader of Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel’s Historical Documents Records Center, to preserve the important documents of the County’s and Houston’s heritage.

Furlow writes, “A little more than a decade ago, courthouse records with dramatic tales of Harris County’s history lay moldering like John Brown in his grave. An unmarked grave of docket sheets, judgments, orders, evidence and appeals, many dating back to the decade-long Republic of Texas, occupied a red brick building on a grubby corner of downtown Houston at the intersection of Texas and Austin. Climate control consisted of a single window-unit familiar to anyone who suffered through their buzzing, rattling and periodic breakdowns during the Fifties and Sixties. The acidity of paper, high humidity, the ravages of hurricanes and floods, the jaws of rats and roaches, and decades of neglect were reducing Harris County’s judicial history to fading stacks of confetti.”

Use Crowdsourcing to Identify the People in Photographs

Jeff Phillips discovered a big pile of funky-smelling Eastman Kodak boxes containing dozens of projection trays filled with Kodachrome slides at a consignment antique shop near St. Louis. The 30 boxes contained about 1,100 slides. Only two of the slides were labeled. One said “Edna” and another was labeled as “Harry, 1958.” Those are clues but do not provide much to go on. Jeff decided to identify the people in the slides. Jeff then embarked on a crowdsourced search to identify the people in the photos by using social media. He received hundreds of suggestions from Facebook users.

Hancock County, Georgia, Courthouse Burned

All that remains of the Hancock County Courthouse

Another huge loss for genealogists and historians: Property deeds, birth and marriage certificates and many other vital records dating back to 1795 were destroyed when most of the Hancock County Courthouse in Sparta burned down early Monday.

The fire broke out around 3 a.m. on Monday, August 11. When fire crews arrived, the building was engulfed in flames. The cause of the blaze is unknown. The building and its contents appear to be a total loss.


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