Local couple organizes county court records

The haphazardly stashed court records sitting in the Washington County Courthouse attic are getting put in order through a slow process of volunteer work from a husband-and-wife team.

Dan and Carolyn Grammer, of Marietta, are sorting through and organizing the records, which date back to the 1700s, for two to three hours across two to four days a week.

They started in November and have already put in several hundred hours of work.

The process is part of a digitization project being completed by Salt Lake City-based FamilySearch, a nonprofit company which specializes in genealogy. The project is part of a big project by FamilySearch to index all records from each of the 50 states’ counties, Carolyn said.

“This index we’re doing will eventually be a part of 3,000-plus counties in the U.S.,” she said, adding that Washington County was a part of the initial pilot effort, which focuses main efforts in four Indiana counties.

John de Jong, FamilySearch field relations manager for Ohio, said this is a process that started many years ago in 1938 with microfilming important documents.

“We call it a record listing,” he said. “We identify the records that exist. Ohio and Indiana are the two states we’re starting with. There are a lot of records, we don’t know what they are. A good example of that is Washington County.”

De Jong called connecting with Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Ed Lane “opportunistic” because he called at the beginning of the project.

“It’s just taking advantage of the process we’re using,” he said.

De Jong said he’s responsible for all of Ohio and there is much work to be done. He added that the work in Washington County would take some time.

“I think it will take years (to complete the whole process),” he said. “Washington County could be done in a few months.”

De Jong admitted a difficulty is finding people to help sort through records, but that if the right person, or people, are found the work goes smoothly.

Carolyn said she’s not afraid to ask people she knows to help her and Dan.

“We try to bring friends if we can find some to come with us,” she said.

The Grammers, who mainly do the work themselves, are only about one-quarter of the way through the masses of record books and packets that have taken over almost every nook and cranny in the attic.

Lane said he was excited about progress made thus far on the project.

“What I find exciting is the little things we’re finding,” he said.

That includes inventory for a general store in Gallipolis.

“You could buy the entire store for a dollar,” Lane said.

The process of sorting and organizing is long. The Grammers catalog the title, total number of pages, whether or not there’s an index and the time period it covers. They then take photos of the cover and first inside page, which usually acts like a title page.

Dan said sometimes the hardest part is “figuring out what all these records are,” because of a lack of title.

One book he was cataloging on Wednesday had no title on the cover, just a handwritten “Deed Direct” on an inside page, with a list of names, volume numbers and page numbers making up the content.

“Except for that handwriting, I’d have no idea what it was,” Dan said. “It’s an index to land records.”

Carolyn said sometimes figuring out what a record really is requires examining it thoroughly.

“Sometimes you just have to study them to find out what they are,” she said.

Lane said he found it “fascinating” that some issues being dealt with in the 1700s and 1800s are still dealt with today, including making a claim for a sheep that is killed by a dog or coyote.

Carolyn added that it was easy to get a little distracted looking through old records.

“You get sidetracked sometimes with what’s in a book,” she said. “Marietta is just a treasure trove of records.”

Some other records that have been found include Supreme Court records, Civil War soldier rosters, coroner inquest records, abstracts of past elections starting at 1840 and even some census records dated 1903.

Carolyn said one thing holding back progress is the lack of a large enough ladder to let them reach the upper shelves that go nearly to the ceiling, but that it should be arriving soon. She said the hope is to have the organizing and sorting done by spring, but that could be pushed back because of the sheer number of records on each shelf.

Lane said the actual digitization of the records would start in about six weeks and applauded the efforts of the Grammers.

“(They’ve) worked cautiously and methodically,” he said. “(They) have been tireless and amazing.”