Across from the Courthouse at the corner of Main and Third St, is a
relatively new repository: the Records Management Division
Library. This is a huge success that has not
gotten a lot of
publicity. However, it reflects such enormous progress, that
you need to know the history to appreciate the change.
If you have been researching in Clermont County for a few years, you may have heard of the “Dungeon.” This term referred to a damp, dusty, moldy, dark, sub-basement of the courthouse, which was used to store over 600 of Clermont’s oldest record books. Some of the books dated back to the Old
Northwest Territory, and these irreplaceable genealogical treasures
were disintegrating because of neglect. They were usually inaccessible to the public, because the doors were locked and, for at least a few years, you had to be escorted by an employee to go down. This was done for safety reasons and because the books were so fragile that they really did not want you to handle them. If you were lucky enough to get in, you couldn’t stay long because the employee had other work to do, and you couldn’t research anyway. It was too dark to read, the books were piled on each other in a disorganized fashion, and there was no place to work.
For over twenty years, our members, along with other interested citizens, attended records commission meetings, wrote letters, and at one point, rescued some records that were being thrown out. For a long time, complaints fell on deaf ears. With the onset of the internet, genealogists from across the country, who had visited Clermont County, complained about the “Dungeon” in chat rooms and on mailing lists.
Eventually there were political changes, followed by enormously hard work on the part of county employees. A records repository was established at the old Williamsburg High School for a few years. Then, it was moved to its current location and FINALLY, all of those books were moved out of the “Dungeon.” Before they could be brought into the new Archive Library, all of them had to be checked (and if necessary, treated) for mold. Some were in such decrepit condition that they are in archivalboxes, instead of standing on the shelves.
The process of restoration has begun, but will progress slowly due to budget constraints. The “Dungeon” is gone for good and we owe a great big “thank you” to the recent County Commissioners, the Records Commission, and Barb Brown and her staff!
The books are now in a clean, environmentally-controlled space, cataloged, and carefully placed on shelves in an organized way. Before, nobody even knew what all was down in that sub-basement. Now, the Records Management Division has a full inventory and Barb Brown, who is in charge there, has asked Society members for input on which are the most valuable for genealogy. Preservation efforts will begin with those. Some of the more exciting books would have to be the indexes to divorces from 1850 to 1970. Also,indexes to civil cases and criminal cases
Researchers can actually make use of the books now. This is not a repository for those who like to browse through old records, however. Few of the genealogical resources are indexed. Before you go, know the record you want and determine a narrow time period for it. Then check to see if there is another source for the information, such as a microfilm in the library. If there is another source, try to make use of it, at least until the books are restored.
You should also call ahead and make an appointment. The doors are not always open to the public, since the employees are working hard on many projects. If you do go, you will be asked to sign in. And, you may need to wear archivist gloves.
Barb Brown tells us that the County Commissioners have budgeted the money for a large, state-of-the-art, open-book scanner this year (with auto-curvation, etc., to eliminate distortion and improve the image). When the historic books are scanned and digitized, the images will be made available to everyone. Barb says that the ultimate goal is to preserve the old records, but also to eventually get it all online, free and accessible to the public. This preserves the history, makes researchers happy, and makes employees jobs’ easier in the long run.