State to scan 54 Preston deed books to make digital copies available

KINGWOOD — A newspaper story on Aug. 23, 1934, reporting the dedication of the new Preston County Courthouse also touted the “Modern method for recording documents,” the Photostat.

Eighty-five years later, County Clerk Linda Huggins and her staff are dealing with another modern method, scanning documents for the digital age.

The State Records Management and Preservation Board will soon begin scanning  54 of the oldest deed books at no charge. The statewide preservation project will scan handwritten books and books that are permanently bound. (Newer books are made so pages can be removed for copying.) Special software will clean up the images.

The original books and a digital copy will be returned to the county. A digital copy will also be kept at the state archives.

At least 14 other counties have participated in the project.

Preston’s deed books go back to the early 1900s. Books with older deeds are copies of deeds  that burnt with the courthouse in 1869.

“After the fire, people brought their old deeds in to be re-recorded,” Huggins said. “That doesn’t mean they were all recorded, though.”

The older deeds are handwritten in a slanting, elaborate hand. On some, people signed their name with an “X,” and little drawings of seals represent the actual seals.

About 2000, the Preston County clerk began putting all records recorded from that time online. About three years ago, Huggins got a scanner large enough to handle the older records. With the aid of grants, the office now has all deeds back to 1964 scanned and converted to digital.

During the oil and gas boom, the record room overflowed with people looking at the books. Now, said Deputy Clerk Linda Hooton, “some days there’s nobody and some days it’s busy.”

Anyone can view the digitized records for free by following the steps from the county web page, prestoncountywv.gov. However, state law requires paying a fee for copies, so anyone who prints a copy without contacting the clerk’s office to set up an account will have “stolen copy” printed on the document.

The fee, set by the legislature, is $1.50 each for the first two pages and $1 for each additional page.

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