Wednesday, February 18, 2009

UPDATE: Tuscaloosa County Courthouse preservation

From: Warren
In late 2007 there was much discussion on DearMYRTLE regarding the 19th century records stored on the 7th floor of the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse. This is a status report on where we stand at the end of 2008.

The Night Group of the Tuscaloosa Genealogical Society (NGTGS) has a standing Records Preservation Committee. This Committee is made up of a dedicated, committed, and enthusiastic group of volunteers. Its members possess the skills to make this project successful. The Committee includes expertise in handling rare books, library information systems, computers and networking, skilled administrators and seasoned genealogists. One person on the Committee coordinates with the Tuscaloosa Court House personnel.

Several other members of the NGTGS participate in the project as well as others in the community. The Alabama Credit Union provides working space, including utilities. Several others in Tuscaloosa offered space, but the Credit Union space was deemed the best for this project. One Night Group member has loaned tables and chairs for the project. Another member has loaned her personal computer. The NGTGS donated $1,000 for the purchase of a vacuum cleaner and other supplies and materials.

The Committee batches approximately forty volumes at a time. These are taken from the Courthouse to the work location. Because the page numbers were not always consecutive, and sadly some of the pages have been cut out, each volume was re-paginated. . So far, we have cleaned, inventoried, assessed and catalogued about 150 bound volumes

A first step in indexing these records occurred in early December. Jan Hutchison photographed all of the pages in three land tax volumes, covering the years 1887, 1888 and 1889. These pages were then put on eighteen CDs and distributed to volunteers for indexing. There are 20 to 25 pages on each CD. Rough estimates indicate this will amount to 18,000 names. Once indexed, the volunteers will return them for inclusion in the Master Index. These three volumes will serve as a beta test for our indexing procedures. The Committee is striving for accuracy and consistency and is attempting avoid false starts. So far, it appears these three objectives are being met.

We have cleared the harbor and are underway. We, however, have a long journey ahead of us.

We need more volunteers. The hours for working will be Monday from 1-4; Wednesday 10-2 and Thursday 10-2. We will also be available to work on the 1st Saturday of the month. Should you be able to get to Tuscaloosa and are interested in helping, please contact Jan Hutchison. Her e-mail address is: She will confirm your time and give you the location. If you want to work a day not listed, let Jan know.

Warren Spruill, Ph.D.
The Night Group of the Tuscaloosa Genealogical Society
P.O. Box 02802
Tuscaloosa, AL 35402-0802

GREAT hearing from you again. CONGRATS on your efforts. This is a prime example of how local genealogical and historical societies can step up to the plate. Thank-you for doing this. I know that the need is urgent at your courthouse, and the small contingent of dedicated volunteers is doing it's best. It seems the work can never get done fast enough.

Our mutual friend and long-time Tuscaloosa records advocate Mike Sullivan reminded me in a 19 January 2009 email that "considering all of the migration in and through Alabama during the 1800s, these endangered courthouse records are evidence of ancestors whose descendants now live coast to coast." He acknowledges historic records preservation issues extend beyond the boundaries of your county. Without concerted efforts, vital documents are in his words "just rotting away somewhere in Alabama".

To recap for my readers, here are links to most previous DearMYRTLE blog entries about Tuscaloosa's preservation challenge.
  • 24 July 2007 Tuscaloosa County Courthouse to scan & destroy original records Circuit Clerk Magaria Bobo explains Tuscaloosa County [Alabama] court documents will be scanned and destroyed, citing the delicate nature of old files." [However, scanning isn’t infallible.]
  • 8 August 2007 Courthouse video: a picture is worth a thousand TEARS. Includes video of the actual courthouse books housed in deplorable conditions.
  • [undated] August 2007 “Tuscaloosa & Greene County AL courthouse records at immediate risk. Will the Alabama Department of Archives & History create a 15th and 16th local government archives?” This blog entry includes a quote from Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG (Certified genealogist), CGL (Certified Genealogical Lecturer) and FASG (Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists) as follows: “In past years, I spent much time up in the Tuscaloosa County courthouse attic with those records. They are a goldmine of information not to be found anywhere else on the earliest settlers of the county—many of whom do not show up in the early land, marriage, and probate records. The records in Greene County are in even worse condition. When I last used them, they were piled in an outbuilding behind the jail, with—literally—rusted out lawnmowers piled on top of the heap.”
  • 13 Aug 2007 Alabama preservation efforts remain unclear. This project was in cooperation with FamilySearch, but did not cover the scope of records sitting in the roughed-in attic of the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse.
  • 21 August 2007 Triangulation: Analysis of historical documents Why we must revisit and review evidence to understand history. Here I wrote: "One cannot overemphasize the need of responsible citizens to look again at surviving documents to see if the history being taught is accurate, and that conclusions are not skewed by inappropriate societal pressures influencing the previous historian, who may have been too close to the situation to see the bigger picture. Microfilming and proper storage is the least we can do to preserve those documents for future generations. It is our legacy, it is their heritage."
  • 7 Sept 2007 Alabama preservation efforts remain unclear citing “County records also suffering from summer heat” by Howard Michael Sullivan, Tuscaloosa [Alabama] News, Wednesday, September 5, 2007. Reprinted by permission of the author.
  • 21 Sept 2007 Tuscaloosa County Courthouse Records Progress is slow but sure, and the local volunteers are on task. Courthouse apparently makes a 180 degree change in preservation policy. Here I wrote: “If those records are destroyed there is no turning back in the case of a blurred image on the microfilm.”

So, Warren, Ol' Myrt here prays you and your volunteers continue faithful in your preservation efforts. Compiling an inventory of each book and contents proves challenging since labeling is scant, deteriorating spines have splintered off, and movement of piles in the past has surely mixed things up. Manuscripts have probably been misfiled, owing to simple human error. If anyone can make sense of this, it is your group. You know the names, you know the history, you know the lay of the land.

Thank-you just isn't adequate to describe my feelings.

DearMYRTLE's My letter urging preservation of American historic records published 2 June 2008 to encourage the US Senate to allocate funding to local governments for preservation of ancient documents.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Your friend in genealogy.


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This and previous blog entries are fully searchable by going to . Myrt welcomes queries and research challenges, but regrets she is unable to answer each personally.