Preservation of Shelby County District Clerk Records
March 20, 2017 - Would you like to see and touch records made by and about your ancestors since the late 1800s? Shelby County officials are making it possible for the citizens and taxpayers to do just that!
On Wednesday, March 15, 2017, Shelby County District Clerk, Lori Oliver, spoke to the Timpson Area Genealogy and Heritage Society about the efforts currently in progress to preserve the paper records entrusted to the Shelby County District Clerk’s office. These records include such case files as lawsuits, divorce, adoptions and cases involving juveniles.
When the Texas Constitution was written, the founding fathers stipulated that each county would have a district clerk. The clerk shall, by government code, maintain and arrange the records relating to and lawfully deposited in the clerk’s office. Ms. Oliver and her staff take this charge seriously and are working diligently toward that end.
Most early county records were lost when the Shelby County Courthouse burned on June 2, 1882. The oldest surviving record found to date is dated 1883. Past efforts to preserve records have included microfilming and digitizing through a scanning process. These efforts, however, do nothing to preserve the original paper records, which are disintegrating into dust as time passes. The rapidly deteriorating condition of the records prompted action to remediate the problem. County officials began looking at new technology and best practice for preserving them. Paper records are estimated to last 300-500 years. Microfilmed records are estimated to last 50-100 years. With rapid changes in technology and the resultant incompatibility between old and new technology, digital records are estimated to be useable for 2-10 years. Based on these statistic, it has been determined that preserving the original paper record is the best preservation approach.
Funding is a big issue on what will be a long and costly project, but one that must be done. Preservation efforts are moving forward in $12000 to $15000 expenditures as funding becomes available. Ms. Oliver stated that it is doubtful that the project will be completed in her tenure in the office of District Clerk and maybe not even in her lifetime.
In 2009 the Texas State Legislature passed HB 3637 which assesses a $10 filing fee on all civil filings in the District Clerk’s office. Money collected from these filing fees is designated for records preservation. Using income from the $10 filing fees, and with the support of the County Commissioners and a generous $50,000 transfer by Shelby County Clerk, Jennifer Fountain, from the County Clerk’s records preservation fund to the District Clerk’s records preservation fund. the efforts have begun.
Kofile, Inc, the oldest and most experienced private conservation laboratory was hired and authorized to begin the preservation. The initial investment authorized by the District Clerk was not to exceed $12,000. Skilled conservators from Kofile carefully collected and processed the first batch of records through deacidification, which includes unfolding the records, cleaning them of dust, tape, etc, enhancing the clarity of the writing/typing and encapsulating each record in archival sleeves. This process is projected to protect and extend the life of the original records for up to 300 years. The processed records are returned to the county in attractive fire and weather resistant binders for viewing by the citizens of Shelby County and other interested parties. A digital copy of each case file is provided by Kofile, Inc. Shelby County citizens and other researchers have the option of viewing the digital file or the bound file.
In April 2015, the government mandated that the District Clerk accept only electronically filed cases. In situations where e-filing is not practical and will impede action necessary to address an emergency situation, the office will accept original document filing.
The e-filing mandate requires that attorneys file cases through a secure online portal. It was quickly determined that Judges and attorneys need access to these electronic files. With the expansion of access, however, confidentiality and privacy became issues. To address this problem, State Representative, Travis Clardy, has introduced a bill in the Texas Legislature to protect those records that must be kept confidential. These would include cases involving juveniles, adoptions and cases sealed by the courts.