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Braintree town clerk seeks $140k from CPC to preserve historic records

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  September 9, 2011 05:48 PM

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In the latest round of applications for Community Preservation Committee funds, Braintree officials are seeking about $140,000 to preserve historic and vital records.

According to City Clerk Joe Powers, the preservation of both types of documents is happening in two stages, with the common aim of eventually making the records more accessible, searchable, and protected.

The $40,000 for the vitals preservation is the second phase of the $65,000 process. Approximately $25,000 was appropriated to the project by the CPC in previous years. This second phase of funding will allow the town to go out and bid for a vendor to complete the work, officials said.

It’s an extensive process - all birth, death, and marriage certificates, approximately 120,000 of them, have to be scanned and then put into a database. The ultimate goal is to create a genealogical search engine.

“Obviously, it’s quite a bit of demand when you have records from 1640 forward. It’s a great way to preserve the records, put them in a format that is usable, and put them out there,” Powers said.

The remaining funding, or $100,000, would go toward preservation of historic documents.

“That will allow us a three-pronged measure of defense,” Powers said. “These files include any of the historic records we have in our vault. Ancient mortgages and deeds, some records that have already been preserved, records from the 17th and 18th centuries, this part of the project would be to restore them if necessary, and once they are restored, scanning them for ease of access and microfilming them.”

Although scanning would technically preserve the documents, microfilming is the recognized medium for preservation.

“You only need a magnification and a light source. It’s the medium standard for long-term preservation and use. Because i'ts not computerized, it doesn’t have the problem of obsolescence,” Powers said.

Scanning, meanwhile, will enable the documents to be searchable to the public in a way not easy with microfilm.

“It allows people to dig through our files without literally digging through our files,” Powers said.

The clerk is hopeful that the $100,000 for historic preservation will get the town through a lot of its vault, yet the project might need additional funding in upcoming years.

It’s a project with a lot of time pressure, Powers said, especially as records printed on paper after the Industrial Revolution aren't likely to last.

“There is a bit of a sense of urgency,” Powers said. “Ironically you find the documents older than the 1850s are much more stable given the type of parchment paper and inks. The ones most in danger are 1850 to the modern era, because of the lower quality of the paper and the inks.

"The fact remains, the reason I was pushing these projects is the records are in some form of jeopardy. But I feel that we can move quickly though this project and protect them as much as possible.”

The effort to preserve and protect is a longtime goal of Powers, who made it a mission to do something about the vault of materials in the town’s keeping.

Especially as the records date back to the earliest stages of the town’s history, the project will ultimately be an asset to the town itself.

The motion for the money appropriation was referred to the Committee on Ways and Means at Town Council meeting this week. Councilors will discuss the measure at their meeting on Sept. 21.

If successful, the town would go out to bid for these projects before November. The vital records searchable index could even be up and running as soon as January.

Next steps? Protecting the vault that stores all these files, Powers said.

“But all things considered that’s usually an easier process to tackle,” he said

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