Archived Story

County gets grant to scan historic documents

Published 8:19pm Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ever wonder what Tallapoosa County looked like before Martin Dam filled a large portion of it with Lake Martin?
The Tallapoosa County Revenue Department has quite a few. They also have the original hand-drawn plat maps for many county neighborhoods as they were originally founded. But even being out in the air can take its toll on a document and some of them were deteriorating to the point they could barely be touched without flaking away.
County employee Eva Middlebrooks, who works as a mapper and appraiser, didn’t like the thought of that history fading away. So she began a project to commit the historic documents to digital form.
The revenue office was recently awarded a $2,100 grant from the Alabama Department of Archives and History that Middlebrooks believes will help finish the important preservation project.
“These books and documents aren’t in any condition for the public to go through them any more,” she said.
The project began in earnest a few years ago, Middlebrooks said, when county commissioners agreed to donate $2,000 each in discretionary funds to get the project going. Middlebrooks began carefully boxing up the resources and shipping them to cartography experts at  the University of Alabama. There, faculty and graduate students trained to handle time-worn documents scan the documents into digital form. The high-resolution files are then stored on a portable hard drive and sent back the county. The university charged only a minimal fee, because researchers there want access to the historical records of the state almost as much as county residents, Middlebrooks said.
Middlebrooks said around 80 percent of the preservation project is complete, with 21 books scanned and about seven to go.
Completing the project should be of great benefit to title researchers, who sometimes hit a road block in finding property owners because records after a certain age are too delicate to handle. Middlebrooks said she also expects genealogy buffs to enjoy the relative ease people “can come in to research where their heritage came from.”
“Where before the book was 25-30 pounds to get down and turn a page, now they can just sit at a computer,” she added.
Middlebrooks said she’s applied for the annual grant the last few years, but before the county commission got the project off the ground, the county’s was considered too big a project for the state archives to fund.
Revenue Commissioner Linda Harris gave all the credit to Middlebrooks for taking on the project, noting she “worked very hard to get this grant.”
“These records mean so much to the county,” Harris said. “Some of them go back to the 1800s and you can’t put a price tag on that. Those records will never be duplicated again.”

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