Local News

Johnston County looks to preserve historical documents and its history

Posted January 11, 2018 10:58 p.m. EST
Updated January 12, 2018 8:54 a.m. EST

— At a time when digital is king and when a phone can hold as many pictures as six photo albums, Johnston County is investing time and money into preserving its paper legacy.

Right now more than 100 years of vital records, including marriage licenses, deeds, birth and death certificates, are all in their original forms.

Johnston County Register of Deeds Craig Olive is on a mission to save paper records.

"The best way to find out about history is on paper," Olive said. "We must preserve these. These are the only maps we have of the towns in Johnston County."

Millions of records are wasting away, and Olive says history is as fleeting as the paper that records it.

"You can tell where the oil on people's skins rubs off," he said. "The paper files are the actual history of our files here."

Old records are scanned into the system, and new records simply start out in digital form. The county will also no longer print books for land deeds.

"People like to touch the paper, touch the actual books," Olive said.

Some people like to experience history through the books. Emery Ashley, raised in Smithfield, is one of those people.

Ashley is lawyer and likes the efficiency of electronic records, but he is leery of its reliability.

"We have to deal with electronic records because its here, but, well, paper just seems more concrete," he said. "If we rely on digital, what if the computers go down?"

Olive said it's a balancing act.

"It would be nice to be able to continue to print books like a library, like a Library of Congress," he said.

The project is paid for with a special preservation fund, created by money collected through the Register of Deeds office.

So far the county has preserved 69 books with birth, death and marriage records. The county's entire paper archive has been digitized as well.