When Melanie Reed looks at the minute books that line the shelves of the Ellis County District Clerk’s Office, she sees more than just records. She sees people and how their actions helped to shape the county as it is known today.
As district clerk, Reed has worked to preserve records from criminal, civil, and tax cases dating as far back as October 1850. It is a preservation process began seven years ago when the Texas Supreme Court created the Records Preservation Taskforce.
“They realized that, in some of the counties across the state, the clerks had no idea what records were there,” Reed said. “My first two minute books, the preservation taskforce paid to have them redone. That is what started everything for me.”
Reed stated several handfuls of residents visit the office on a weekly basis to look at documents contained inside the books, many just trying to research their own lineage.
She noted everything was recorded by hand — ranging from indictments, petitions, and court orders.
The county contracted with Scott Merriman Inc. to start the preservation process, beginning with the oldest minute books first. Funds for the project came from fees collected through court costs for civil and criminal cases, as a portion of these fees is designated by the state to be used for record management and preservation. So far, the project has restored 65 minute books but still has around 35-40 left. Restoration costs have totaled about $150,000.
Reed stated it is interesting when viewing these records how much things have changed and, despite contrary beliefs, how much things have remained the same.
“It is incredible when you see the history up close. Seeing some of the first cases and charges like theft of a cow or mule. It is way different than now,” Reed said. “There was crime then like there is now, but the biggest difference is that the county was a lot smaller then.”
The preservation process involves deacidifying the documents and then scanning the pages into a computer. Once scanned, the documents are placed into a protective sleeve, which protects them from moisture. They are then placed inside a new book and the digital copy of the record will be put into the county’s case management in the near future.
Reed stated the project is ongoing, and no date of completion has been set at this time.
She noted her department is looking at taking steps to preserve additional records stored in small boxes in the future. These records, unlike the books, are folded. The small envelope size boxes are stored in about 200 large banker boxes.
Reed stated it is a great accomplishment to have these books preserved for future generations, noting these books are a “treasure.”