Liberty County Clerk’s Office preserving old records, introduces online database

Liberty County Clerk Lee Haidusek Chambers enjoys looking at the historical documents in her care. A self-professed history buff, Chambers is proud to be spearheading a project to preserve these records for future generations.

Liberty County’s historical documents will be preserved for future generations thanks to a project underway by the Liberty County Clerk’s Office under County Clerk Lee Haidusek Chambers.

When she was elected nearly two years ago, one of Chambers’ top priorities was to create a digital database where county clerk records could be searched online and to preserve and restore the decaying old records, some of which date back to the late 1800s.

In order for the County Clerk’s Office to achieve this goal, county commissioners okayed a $10 increase for all deed records filed, taking the filing fee per deed from $16 to $26. The additional fee is not permanent and will end when all of the books are restored.

“It is interesting to see the old signatures and names in these documents, but it also breaks my heart to think about the ones we lost in the courthouse fire in 1872, the ones that went back to 1836 or older. Those records had the names of many of the people who lived here then, including famous ones like General Sam Houston. Those records are gone,” Chambers said.

The preservation project involves sending volumes of records each month to an archival company where the pages are scanned for the county’s database. Then an archival spray is applied to make the pages acid-free, which should slow down the aging and decaying process. Afterward, pages are placed in plastic sleeves that will allow people to view records without causing further damage.

When the newly-restored records are returned to the courthouse, a new challenge arises – finding shelf space to store the increased number of books and binders.

“They are breaking up some of the books into two volumes. It has increased the number of books because the plastic sheets for each page take up space. It’s just a protective sleeve that is a little bit thicker than the paper itself, but it takes up space,” Chambers said.

At the last commissioners court meeting on Oct. 27, commissioners approved the purchase of additional shelving for the storage of record books in the county clerk’s office. The cost of the new shelves – $45,000 – will be paid from the county’s record management fund, which is funded by the State of Texas for the purpose of preserving and keeping county records.

The new books are being color-coded to make it easy to determine where they go based on the category, such as vital records (birth, death, marriage and military discharge records); deeds, property descriptions and maps; and other records like commissioners court agendas and minutes. Vital records will be moved into an office that is currently housing the probate records inside the county clerk’s office on the second floor of the Liberty County Courthouse. Vital records are required to be under lock and key, and will not be readily available to the public except through the online database or with the assistance of a clerk.

The probate records will be moved to an adjacent space on the second floor that was previously occupied by the Liberty County Elections Administration Office, which is now located on the first floor in the old tax office, a space that will be shared by the new Liberty County Court of Law No. 2.

Deeds, maps and property descriptions will remain in the vault inside the county clerk’s office. Among the more unusual records at the county clerk’s office, and some of the oldest, are what Chambers calls “the cattle records.” Back in the county’s early days, cattle and horse sales had to be registered with the county clerk’s office.

“If they sold a cow to someone for a certain amount, it would be recorded. No one has tried to prove ownership of a 100-year-old cow, but it’s part of our history. It shows the history of the area’s oldest ranches and farms,” Chambers said.

To make online searches available to the general public, a computer is now set up at the main desk at the county clerk’s office. Patrons can search for documents and then pay to print them by using a credit or debit card. This service is also available online at https://libertycountytx-web.tylerhost.net/web/

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