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Lake Co. moves to digitize vital records to ease searches, preserve them in …

CROWN POINT, Ind. — Large leather-bound books line the walls of the Lake County recorder’s office.

They contain vital information, primarily about deeds and mortgages dating back to the first land deal with the Potawatomi Indians in 1836.

It’s a wealth of information intriguing to genealogy buffs like Crown Point’s Marlene Polster, a human search engine who tracks down information and helps people round out their family trees.

Those big 10-pound books weigh more than a laptop computer, and Lake County Recorder Michelle Fajman is bent on creating a digitized backup file that anyone can access without trekking down to the Lake County Government Center.

Fajman’s office has partnered with the Northwest Indiana Genealogical Society to undertake the arduous job of indexing the records from 5,840 books.

By law, the books must remain in the county recorder’s office. But Fajman wants to back up the records and keep a copy off site in the event of a natural disaster, like a tornado or flood. A digitized backup will also make it quicker to find records.

“When you have history, you have to protect it because we can never get it back,” Fajman said.

Polster, Lake County’s genealogist and also the vice president of the Northwest Indiana Genealogical Society, met Fajman at a meeting of the county’s Commission for Public Records.

As county genealogist, Polster said she’s required to answer queries about records and to make sure the county complies with public record rules.

PHOTO: In this April 11, 2012 photo, Joan Kessel, of Lowell, and a member of the Northwest Indiana Genealogical Society, skim through one of hundreds of books of records at the Lake County Recorders Office, in Crown Point, Ind. Volunteers from Northwest Indiana Genealogical Society helped the Lake Recorder's office with inventory of old records dating back to 1830s. (AP Photo/The Post-Tribune, Scott R. Brandush)  NW INDIANA OUT; MUNSTER OUT; MICHIGAN CITY OUT; VALPARAISO OUT; CHICAGO OUT

As county genealogist, Polster said she’s required to answer queries about records and to make sure the county complies with public record rules.

“We come in about three or four times a week to catalog all the books there for Michelle so she can proceed to scan them,” Polster said.

The volunteers first catalog the books, writing down the transaction on the first page and last page with dates. So far, they’ve gone through 4,000 books.

Once the cataloging is completed in about a month, the volunteers will begin the cumbersome process of going through the books page by page writing down page numbers, names and transactions. Those records will be indexed by name and that project is expected to take years.

Records from 1997 to the present are digitized. Records from 1969 to 1997 are stored on microfilm.

“It’s a mammoth job,” said Polster, whose group is also digitizing Lake County marriage records and posting them on its website. So far, they’ve got those records digitized from 1837 to 1926.

Fajman said the genealogical society volunteers take pressure off her workers to inventory the books and help stretch her budget dollars further.

“Now, we can see the big picture. We wanted to start a project that would continue to grow,” she said.


Information from: Post-Tribune,

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