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Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • Preserving the past

  • It's important that each piece of paper get as flat as possible. David Snead is in charge of making sure papers from years gone by that are stored in the New London courthouse get to the state archives in the best condition. There, they will be examined and preserved on microfilm, and in some cases, digitally.
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  • In a back room at the Ralls County Courthouse, he is surrounded by old files, packed boxes and miscellaneous storage.
    At his makeshift work station — which is just an extra-long table — documents more than 100-years-old rest unfolded.
    It's important that each piece of paper get as flat as possible. David Snead is in charge of making sure papers from years gone by that are stored in the New London courthouse get to the state archives in the best condition. There, they will be examined and preserved on microfilm, and in some cases, digitally.
    "As far as long-term stuff, on microfilm, you can keep multiple copies, the storage quality is 500 years. But the main reason that I tell people why we use microfilm, above and beyond, or for permanent storage, is technology. Technology for computers and computer storage has changed however much in the last five years, 10 years, 20 years. Think about the different formats we have for keeping digital images," Snead said.
    Some of the documents stored in the court house vault "are kind of crumbly and torn. They're not bad, but what's happened is they're tri-folded and when you tri-fold paper you create creases. One of the very first things we do is we go through and we flatten out these papers to get them nice and flat, and into acid-free folders.
    "The paper is going to deteriorate the fastest of any format. Ultimately the county's required to keep these records and if we want to keep the information then it has to be converted to another format." Microfilm allows for multiple copies. The Missouri State Archives will keep a copy in the reference room and then the information goes into a data base and then into an online data base where people all over the world can search it.
    Snead's current task is the probate estate files. Some of them date back to the 1820s, the early settlement years of Ralls County. Each document is imprinted with elegant script of precise information. In During his work, Snead gets to know the people associated with each document he preserves.
    "I've been reading this stuff for probably 12 years or so, so it's getting pretty easy for me. For people first starting out, reading some of this stuff, these are some good ones (to try and read)," he said. "My love is history, I love history. I've studied history and I've gotten a couple of degrees in it, so I really like to preserve it and read it myself, but I also like the fact that it will be available to other people. There's so many people that do family history and we're seeing more TV shows about that. We're seeing a certain group that has been advertising on TV all the time for ancestors. To be a part of that and know that I'm actually making that stuff available is really cool to me.
    Page 2 of 2 - "It tells me what people owned. We take so much stuff for granted. We need a pair of shoes and we run down to the local department store and we pick them up. These people didn't have that so you'll see a lot of them owned deer skin that they've tanned and then they have shoemaker tools. Almost every family, most of them that didn't have a lot of money had shoemaker tools so that they could make their own shoes."
    There are plenty of other projects keeping Snead busy, including preservation at Truman State University, and some restorations he's working on his own time. And it's all for the love of history.

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