PROCEDURES FOR LOOSE RECORDS PREPARATION
BY COUNTY PROJECT VOLUNTEERS
The following procedures, written by staff of the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) are intended to assist local volunteers in preparing loose county records for microfilming by the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU).
Types and Cut-off Dates of County Records to be Filmed
Loose county records eligible for filming include: estate case files, marriage licenses, divorces, guardianships, apprenticeships, manumissions, bastardy bonds, and Confederate pension records. Filming will begin with the earliest loose records found in a courthouse and will end at the following cut-off dates: 1900 for circuit court records (circuit court records, other than divorces, will not be filmed if divorces are filed separately), 1915 for estate case files; 1930 for divorces filed separately, and 1950 for marriage licenses. Manumissions, bastardy bonds, and Confederate pension records will be filmed in their entirety.
Bound records that were missed in earlier microfilming cycles, or that fall within GSU’s microfilming guidelines, can be inventoried and filmed during the loose records project. Private collections are more problematic because of copyright restrictions. However, they can also be included in a county’s inventory and will be evaluated by the GSU as candidates for filming.
Records Inventorying Procedures
Records inventory forms should list the title and inclusive dates of each category of loose records. A single entry for each type of record is sufficient. GSU’s new inventory form (which is not the one previously sent to most county projects) asks for “estimated exposures”–that is, the number of microfilm images each type of record will produce. A GSU staff member has provided the following formula for estimating exposures:
Thus, estimating records volume or number of images is not an exact science. GSU asks volunteers who are unsure of their figures to estimate “high” instead of “low.” Sample and blank inventory forms are appended; additional copies are available from the ADAH Government Records Division. Completed project inventories should be sent to ADAH, and GSU must approve the filming of all inventoried records before the work proceeds.
- # ab One letter-sized (8½ x 11") or legal-sized (8½ x 14") sheet = 1 camera “shot” or image.
- # ab A 1" thick stack of records (or 1/12 of the records in a cubic foot box) generally amounts to about 200 sheets.
- # abA standard one-cubic-foot records box will contain 2400 images (if writing is on one side of the pages), or 4800 images (if writing is on both sides of the pages).
- # abIf some pages are one-sided and some two-sided, the estimate will need to be adjusted accordingly.
Arranging Loose Records to Be Microfilmed
Alphabetical Arrangement. Obviously, records from different county offices (probate office vs. circuit court) or different records series (marriage licenses vs. estate case files) should not be placed in the same box or file folder. Within individual record series, ADAH and GSU prefer an alphabetical arrangement, based on the "main name" in a case or file (e.g., the decedent’s name for estate case files, or the husband’s name for marriage licenses). A strictly alphabetical arrangement should provide quick access to the records even without an index to them. Avoid filing records by case or docket number, as few researchers will know that number when looking for information on their ancestor.
All county projects that prepare loose records for the ADAH/GSU loose records microfilming program should follow this method of arrangement. However, if a county has already prepared loose records according to a different method, and wishes those records to be included in the project, GSU staff can be somewhat flexible in accommodating other systems. A good index (see below) can often overcome problems of arrangement. Please notify ADAH staff as soon as possible if you have processed loose records using another method of arrangement. Any loose records prepared by a county and not previously filmed should be included in the inventory for this project.
Storage Boxes and File Folders. County projects should use standard record storage boxes and file folders. (Specifications are available from ADAH.) If a county’s loose records are to be retained after microfilming, the use of acid-free materials is strongly recommended. ADAH should be able to supply projects with one-cubic-foot boxes and file folders, although we cannot guarantee an unlimited quantity of these materials.
Records storage boxes. Boxes should be labeled according to this example: "[Name] County. Estate Case Files, 1850-1915 [Use the date span covering the entire record series.] Box 1 of 10: ADAMS - COOPER." Boxes should be numbered consecutively and should include the names of the first and last files within the box.
File folders. The file folder’s "tab" or top margin should show the case/file’s “main name,” date (both starting and ending date, if applicable), and case/file number, if known. Folders should be numbered consecutively within boxes and include the box number, so they may easily be returned to the right box. A typical folder in the series above might read:
[Name] County Box 10
Estate Case Files LINCOLN, William Allen, Case no. 321 (1881-83) Folder 3 of 10
Because some inks are acidic, and to avoid accidentally marking records, complete the file folders in pencil. Information on the tab is used primarily to find a record in a box, but be aware that GSU also uses the folder as a microfilm identification target for the file. Use a soft lead pencil, bear down, and write large and legibly. If there is any doubt that file labeling across the tab will be easily visible on film, rewrite the label in larger script across the front of the folder. Additional record information (such as other names found in the file) can also be listed here, to provide quick reference for researchers looking for a family name. Finally, do not use the case/file packet (the envelope containing the tri-folded loose records) as a label or target, as it may not be legible on film.
Placement of loose records in files. With many loose records, one side of a page will often contain only basic identifying information, such as name of the case and date. There is therefore much blank space on that side of the document. GSU camera operators use this blank space to adjust the lights on their cameras. For this reason, project volunteers are asked to place records in the file folders with the “blank” side up.
Targeting Procedures. Microfilm targets (extra sheets of paper inserted between documents) are necessary to identify and authenticate the records on a roll of microfilm; to evaluate the film’s technical quality; and to point out problems with the original records, such as missing pages or illegibility, that affect the film. For purposes of this project, local volunteers will be responsible for inserting two types of targets:
Case identification targets. As discussed above, the file folder will be used as an identification target at the beginning of each case or other record on the film. Pencilled writing on the folders must therefore be dark, large, and legible.
"Letter" targets. As an aid to locating records on the film, volunteers should insert plain paper targets bearing a large “A,” “B,” or subsequent letter when case names beginning with that letter have been reached. These targets should be printed by a computer using a large font. If handwritten targets must be used, they should be written in dark pencil, not ink.
All other microfilm targets (project/roll identification targets, certificates of authenticity, technical targets) will be inserted by the GSU camera operator as the records are filmed.
Indexing. All records filmed during the loose records program will be added to GSU’s computerized all-name index in Salt Lake City. However, GSU staff will compile a county’s index information from its completed microfilm, not the original records, so the information may not be available to ADAH or to the county project. If project volunteers wish to compile a separate index to their own records, GSU’s camera operators will film the index as part of the project. Please note the following guidelines:
Types of information. If project volunteers have arranged loose records alphabetically and labeled folders properly, quick access to record information should be possible even without indexing. Beyond this, the index can be as comprehensive as the project’s time and resources will permit. An “all-name” index is preferable, and cross-referencing (e.g., brides’ and grooms’ names for marriage licenses) provides a useful finding aid. Other index information can include case/file date(s), file/docket numbers, and originating office. If possible, the index should be created using a computer.
Time of completion. The index does not have to be finished when GSU’s camera operators arrive in a county or even when all of its loose records have been filmed. If a project completes its index later, GSU camera operators can return to the county and film it then, or ADAH staff can assist the project in sending the information on to Salt Lake City. Waiting to compile the index after the county receives its copy of the microfilm may even be preferable, because index references can then be linked to particular microfilm roll and frame numbers.
Procedures for Quality Control, Filming, and Protection of Loose Records
County project coordinators should make every effort to ensure that all volunteers consistently follow the procedures outlined in this leaflet. Work should be checked frequently for accuracy and uniformity. ADAH archivists and microfilming staff will visit each county to inspect the processed records prior to filming. Any problems will be reviewed with the project coordinator so that they can be corrected before GSU’s camera operators begin work.
Once preparation is completed, access to the loose records should be restricted until after they are filmed, to prevent any loss or disarrangement of record information. ADAH and GSU will try to schedule filming promptly so that the records will not be closed for an extended period of time. Prior to the camera operators’ arrival, GSU staff will discuss their needs (primarily a small, dark, isolated room in the courthouse; nearby running water; and a telephone) with the county probate judge.
After receiving its copy of the finished microfilm, the county may wish to consider withdrawing its original loose records from public use, in order to protect them from further "wear and tear."
Sources of Additional Assistance
Information on unfolding, flattening, humidifying, and surface-cleaning loose records; removing fasteners; and encapsulating documents is available from the ADAH Government Records Division. If questions or problems arise during the project, or for assistance with other issues pertaining to records management or storage, contact Tom Turley (ext. 234), Linda Overman (ext. 229), or other division staff at:
ADAH Government Records Division
P.O. Box 300100, Montgomery, AL 36130-0100
Telephone: (334)242-4452; fax: (334)240-3433
Click here to view a sample records inventory form and to print a blank records inventory form.