Saturday, November 8, 2003

Last-minute deal preserves historic courthouse files

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FALMOUTH - A last-minute deal brokered this week between Frankfort and Pendleton County has spared hundreds of courthouse records dating to the late 1700s.

The Kentucky Department of Archives flopped its decision.

Officials there had said there was no need to save the flood-damaged records since they are on microfilm.

Northern Kentucky historians contend the originals must be preserved because the microfilming is incomplete and of low quality.

"I have examined the microfilm of many of Pendleton County's records," said Eric Nagle, president and co-founder of the Pendleton County Historical & Genealogical Society. "Many were poorly done and some are illegible, and it is not due to the poor condition of the originals as some claim."

Kevin Grace, an archivist at the University of Cincinnati for 24 years, said he doesn't believe in keeping old documents just for their intrinsic value. However, he said that the Pendleton records should be saved to make sure all the information they contain has been preserved.

"This is an extremely unfortunate situation," he said. "It is just unfortunate it appears they did a half-baked job at preserving them."

Pendleton County Judge-executive Henry Bertram, a member of the local historical society, said the state has stopped demanding the documents be destroyed and has placed them in his custody. He said the state will help the cash-strapped county find grants to pay for their cleaning.

History buffs will no longer be allowed to peruse the documents, because county officials learned of state-ordered tests that show the papers are contaminated with E.coli, selenium and arsenic from the 1997 flood.

The county could be held liable if someone got sick, Bertram said. The state had suggested people wear gloves and a mask when touching the old books.

Until a few of weeks ago, the documents were stored alongside undamaged records at the courthouse for anyone to read.


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