PARIS — Oxford County Register of Deeds Pat Shearman said the Oxford County Registry of Deeds East is wrapping up a five-year project that involves restoring, recreating and preserving the 5,327 plans that have made its way into the Registry’s archives since 1805.
The project began in 2014 after Shearman and the registry staff began brainstorming ways to keep the registry documents and plans properly updated and restored as new technology became available.
“Each register builds upon the actions of past registers and staff,” Shearman said. “With the introduction of new technology, many things have to be learned and changed.”
Shearman, who has served as the Register of Deeds since 2011, said that in 2014, she and the r egistry staff “did an overview of our plans and realized that we had plans that were illegible in many cases.”
“We realized we can and should do better with the tools we have right now,” Shearman said. “That started us on a multi-pronged mission to look at restoring, recreating and preserving these records.”
The Oxford County Registry of Deeds East recently wrapped up a 10-plus year project where Shearman, registry clerk Debra Smith and former clerk Pam Woodworth combed through 455,000 documents dating back to 1960 and transferred them to a digital database, all without using a cent of taxpayer money.
For the plan restoration project, Shearman said that the registry has been using funds from its surcharge account.
“We collect $3 from every document that’s recorded at the Registry of Deeds, except for state and local government documents,” Shearman explained. “That money goes into our surcharge account, which can only be used for the restoration, recreation and preservation of records.”
She said that the Registry of Deeds typically saves between $25,000 and $26,000 a year in its surcharge account.
“For the last five years, we’ve saved the money in the surcharge account because we knew it would take time to do what we wanted to do,” Shearman said.
In 2016, Shearman said that the Oxford County Registry of Deeds brought its microfilm archives from Iron Mountain, Pennsylvania, where it had been housed for years, to the Maine State Archives in Augusta.
“Once we had our microfilm, we contacted Kofile, a professional restoration company,” Shearman said. “They came and looked at our older plans, which were located in very large and heavy books. Kofile said that in order to digitally preserve the plans and create new microfilm, they would need access to our source documents.”
Shearman said that the Registry of Deeds sent out “one or two books at a time as we could afford it.”
“Using the surcharge account, we spent about $120,000 to preserve the plans and create new microfilm,” Shearman said. “The plans were placed on polyester microfilm, which has a 500 year lifespan.”
Many of the plans, prior to being restored, were illegible due to “digital noise,” Shearman said, which caused the plans to be pixelated or grainy when viewed in a digital format.
In addition to sending 1,300 of the registry’s plans to Kofile for restoration, Shearman said that the registry replaced its large-format printer with a new one, which allowed Smith to scan the remaining 4,000 plans into a digital format.
“Using the surcharge account, Deb came in an hour early each day and scanned those documents one by one,” Shearman said.
Any new documents that come in are now scanned through the new large-format printer, and at the end of each month, they’re made into microfilm by Info Quick Solutions and sent to Maine State Archives.
Shearman said that sometime in October, the five-year project “should be wrapped up.”
The final step in the process is to make new microfilms of the 4,000 documents that Smith scanned into the large-format printer.
As the project comes to an end, Shearman said that “none of this would have been completed or possible without a willing partner in Deputy Register of Deeds Deb Smith.”
“We’re very excited to have completed this project for the public,” she added.