Southampton working to preserve historical records

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For the past nine months, Southampton Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer has been up to her elbows in dusty sheaves of paper, painstakingly archiving nearly 400 years of documents for the town’s Digital Imaging Project.

In an effort to preserve the town’s historical record, Ms. Schermeyer has been working to safely archive town documents and books so they may be reproduced for future research, litigation, and educational purposes while keeping the original documents protected in climate controlled settings. So far, Ms. Schermeyer estimates several thousand historic pages have been saved.

Ms. Schermeyer said another goal of the project is to provide more public access to digital reproductions of documents on the town’s website and to safeguard the images in an off-site underground storage facility.

Ms. Schermeyer said the documents in town’s vaults reflect more than just the heritage of the town. “They show how the town developed and how we got to where we are today,” she said. Though the mammoth in scale, Ms. Schermeyer said the preservation project is one of the most satisfying aspects of her job.

The records being preserved include assessment rolls dating back to the 1800s and the first book of Southampton Town records, chronicling the years 1639 to 1670.

Brown’s River Bindery, a document preservation company in Essex Junction, Vermont, is the company helping to save some of the more fragile records. Ms. Schermeyer said that some of original maps of the town that were near ruin have been restored.

At a Friday, April 25, work session, Ms. Schermeyer provided the Town Board with a sample of one of the digitally preserved books, a Town Record catalog of “Cattle Earmarks,” from 1667 to 1688. While perusing the documents, Town Supervisor Linda Kabot voiced her support for the endeavor.

“There are treasures in the vault of the clerk’s office, and they need preserving,” she said.

One of those treasures is a book of Civil War accounts. In the ledger are records of payments made to Union soldiers fighting in the Civil War from Southampton.

Other town records being saved include those of births, deaths, marriages, land sales and town roadways.

Through a grant from New York State, the town recently acquired a $15,000 scanner that archives maps, according to Ms. Schermeyer. By scanning the maps and reproducing them as digital images, the maps can be placed on the internet and used at schools.

“We’re opening up a wonderful history,” Ms. Schermeyer said.

Through a technology called Optical Character Recognition, soon residents will be able to research historical information about roads they live on, or hamlets they live in. OCR software scans pages of old documents, then translates the text electronically. That updates the documents to current technology allowing old records to be searched by entering key words, such as the name of a street or nearby landmark.

“It’s a very exciting process,” Ms. Schermeyer said.

Working with the town’s Information Technology Department and its Historic Division, Ms. Schermeyer said her office is scouring the town’s records—item by item—to create an inventory of historic holdings and determine the number of books in need of preservation.

Digital reproductions of historical documents and records can be used by the public without concern of damage from exposure to humidity or changes and temperature.

“We are very excited that we have produced the first sample of our reproductions and look forward to creating the entire series of Southampton Town’s great history and making them available to the public and granting access to our town’s historic holdings that have not been available in the past,” Ms. Schermeyer said.

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