Close Call for Kentucky Records

Close Call for Kentucky Records

A genealogist rescues old court books in a chance encounter.

Last fall, researchers in a Northern Kentucky county came close to losing a treasure trove of court records dating from the lace 1700s. A Pendleton County clerk asked county judge/Executive Henry Bertram if he would send a few highway maintenance workers to cart away some old books that the state had authorized destroying. They had long since been microfilmed, and tests had revealed E. coli, selenium and arsenic contamination from a 1997 flood.

Bertram is a member of the Pendleton County Historical & Genealogical Society and a self-declared fan of “old things.” He wandered outside while the deed books, ledgers and marriage licenses were being loaded into two pickup trucks. Many of the records were older than the county. “I got to looking through these books and I thought ‘I can’t get rid of these,’” he says. Bertram stored them in the attic of a county maintenance building.

A minor controversy erupted when historical society members learned the records had been moved and thought the Kentucky archives department was intent on destroying them. Not true, according to Bertram. He says the state can only authorize records’ destruction (and then only when the papers have met statutory guidelines regarding their age and whether they’ve been preserved on film), but the final decision is the county’s. Bertram just happens to be in charge in Pendleton, so after a meeting with state archives officials, the records became his.

The contaminated books aren’t available for the general public’s perusal. “We’ve formed a committee to research what to do and how to do it, to restore these books,” says Bertram. Meanwhile, people with Pendleton County ancestors can view the records on microfilm — though historical society members say it’s of poor quality — at the county clerk’s office <www.pendletoncountyky.org/main.htm> and at Kentucky’s state archives <www.kdla.ky.gov> in Frankfurt.

From the April 2004 Family Tree Magazine

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