GREENVILLE — While technology continues to change at an ever quickening pace, especially as it regards government record-keeping, paper still plays a role, for better or worse.
A good portion of space at the Darke County Clerk of Courts Office is devoted to boxes upon boxes of paper records, proof enough of this role, despite the “Digital Revolution” of the past few decades.
Clerk of Courts Cindy Pike provided The Daily Advocate with a look at the various records her office still keeps, including many documents dating back to the early- to mid-1800s, not so long after the founding of Ohio as a state.
While some may ask why the office would keep records dating from nearly two centuries ago up to today, Pike says she is legally required to do so in many instances.
“Our retention schedule is many pages long,” she said. “And it depends on the case subject, such as domestic cases, divorces, dissolutions with children — those have one kind of a retention period. If there’s real estate involved, that throws it into a different retention period.”
Pike provided one example from her retention schedule.
“For divorce or dissolution, with children. I have to keep that for 25 years after the final order, and if there are no kids in a marriage, 12 years,” she said. “Criminal cases are permanent.”
Pike said in the 22 years she’s been clerk of courts, she doesn’t believe one piece of paper has been intentionally discarded.
The office upgraded its computer system in 2009, allowing them to scan documents.
“All of our documents, as we docket them are scanned,” she said. “Then we went from 2009 back to 1996 when the office was originally computerized, so everything, all cases, are scanned into the computers from 1996 forward now.”
Lest one think everything prior to 1996 is paper only, they would be incorrect, with documents retained by the office on microfilm or fiche.
Pike says microfilm is the only medium accepted by the State Historical Society.
“The only thing they consider a permanent record for archival purposes is microfilm,” she said. “And they say microfilm is their preferred record because of the longevity of it, [claiming] it will last forever. I feel like with technology, the way it is right now, it’s evolving.”
Of course, beyond what is legally required by the state, the documents also paint a picture of earlier times in Darke County and thankfully still exist for historical purposes. Pike showed one example from “Box 1,” in which some of the oldest court records are kept, which were filed alphabetically, not chronologically.
She withdrew a handwritten document of a civil case from March 1846. The clerk’s cursive handwriting, though beautifully written, makes its meaning somewhat difficult to discern with modern eyes accustomed to Times New Roman or Sans-Serif.
Another interesting piece Pike displayed is a handwritten witness list written on the reverse of a flyer advertising an “Army Air Forces Boxing Show” held at Greenville City Park, August 11, 1943.
“This was when there was a paper shortage so they were conserving paper,” she said. “That’s what caught my eye.”
One whimsical document in the office is a September 27, 1879, printed announcement from a John L. Crane of Lightsville, Ohio, seeking the return of “3 Milch Cows,” offering a “liberal Reward” to their finder. It is unknown whether or not Mr. Crane recovered his livestock.
These older documents often contain terms which today might be considered prudish (such as “with child” as a euphemism for “pregnant”) or even offensive (“bastard” describing a child born out of wedlock).
Pike also showed large, seemingly tattered books, containing handwritten indexes, dating back to the late 1800s, which, although appear to be in rough condition with loose pages, Pike explained the pages were removed for microfilming and overall are not in bad condition.
“It’s amazing the condition these are in, all these boxes, paper, and all these indexes, these old books — they weren’t in any kind of climate-controlled environment,” she said. “They were dry, but they had the humidity and the dampness, all the cold and heat.”
Pike says the clerk of courts office is continuing to seek ways to work backwards, preserving old documents digitally, not only out of legal obligation, but for posterity.
“We’re trying to do everything we can, even though everything has been microfilmed up to a certain point, I want to make it more readily available, and make sure we can get it.” she said. “Even though microfilm is supposed to last forever, it doesn’t.”
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