County records also suffering from summer heat
by Howard Michael Sullivan
Tuscaloosa [Alabama] News
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Reprinted by permission of the author.
"There’s an old saying that the only two absolutes in life are death and paying taxes. I think we should add a third: Summer in Alabama is always hot. Always has been, always will be.
Many people say they pine for the old days and wish they could go back. I tell them to turn off their electric service, throw away their car keys, and they’ll be there.
Many things in Alabama suffer during these dog days of summer The birds and the bees, the flowers and trees, even the lowly weeds. Not to mention our wallets and pocketbooks after paying those increased power and water bills.
Our ancestors suffered through the heat as well, and the records of their lives are enduring the same heat today in the seventh-floor attic of the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse with no climate control whatsoever -- not even the comforting breeze of a fan.
It’s not a hospitable environment for archival purposes or for research. Even if you were granted access to search for a particular document, you’d have a hard time finding it. The public elevators don’t extend beyond the sixth floor. You’d have to take the freight elevator the rest of the way, enduring choking dust.
Once you reached the attic, lit only by natural sunlight since the light fixtures stopped working years ago, you’d encounter a heartbreaking sight: hundreds of historical records lying on the bare concrete floor, absorbing acids that will eventually destroy them. Priceless documents containing our county’s heritage, left exposed to rain, heat and high humidity.
Because the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse has never burned, we have a wealth of records enviable by other counties. Some of these records date back to before Alabama became a state in 1819 and are irreplaceable, yet they lie in our County Courthouse, rotting.
Why? Because when Alabama restructured its judicial system in 1973, they made the local probate judges responsible for certain records and turned others over to the state-funded Circuit Court, which operates within the courthouse. The problem is, they never funded the court system to allow for the proper care these records deserve.
County tax records are just some of the relics lying forgotten in the Courthouse attic. Even if your ancestors didn’t own land, there may be records pertaining to their lives, everything from tax receipts for your great-grandfather’s pocket watch to records of when he bought that mantel clock for your great-grandmother’s birthday.
But time is running out. New records are created every day, and the Courthouse is required by law to keep these records, along with backups. This takes a tremendous amount of space, and something will have to go. What do you think will be the first to go? That’s right, all those old “useless" records.As citizens, we have the power to preserve these records by asking our elected officials to create a local archive for government records. There are 14 such archives in Alabama, in smaller counties than our own, yet Tuscaloosa lags behind.
The Tuscaloosa Genealogical Night Group has been working hard on this issue, and the Tuscaloosa Preservation Society and Friends of Historic Northport have shown interest, but we can’t do it alone. The city, county and state could do a great deal to help, but it’s up to us, the private citizens, to make our voice, and the voices of our ancestors be heard.
If you care about our history, if you care about our state’s heritage, I urge you to come to the Tuscaloosa Public Library at 7 p.m. Thursday (Sept 6th) and attend the monthly meeting of the Tuscaloosa Genealogical Society Night Group.
Yes, it is always hot in Alabama in summer, but this is one fire that should not be allowed to cool. We’re not asking for money or even time (though we can put both to good use). What we’re asking is for you to care, to come to Thursday’s meeting and to show your support. Ask for a local government records archive. Your ancestors -- my ancestors -- deserve that much respect.
Howard Michael Sullivan is a Tuscaloosa native and a 1970 graduate of Tuscaloosa County High School. Currently a resident of Homewood, he represents the sixth generation of Sullivans from Tuscaloosa County. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org."
Michael did attend the meeting of the local genealogical society. He reports that the president graciously provided him time to field questions from the floor on this topic. What additional action will be taken by the community at large is still unclear.
FOR FURTHER READING
- Tuscaloosa County Courthouse to scan & destroy original documents
- Tuscaloosa & Greene County AL courthouse records at immediate risk
- Another link for heartbreaking courthouse video
- Courthouse video: a picture is worth a thousand TEARS
- Alabama: Loose Record Project web indexing initiative