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Priceless pages get fail-safe future in Hamilton County

Susie Swenson from the Hamilton County Health Department takes a closer look at the handwritten records that are being digitized for the county's bicentennial. (Provided Photo/Hamilton County)

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — Fragile pieces of Hamilton County’s past are finding a guaranteed place in the future.

As part of the celebration of the county’s bicentennial, leaders are showing off key finds in their ongoing effort to preserve in digital form decades of handwritten records, dating back nearly two centuries.

The records cover births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and more in the county, starting in the mid-1800s.

Some of them truly mark key moments in county history.

“For example, we know Jacob Winter and Elizabeth Cotlin were the first couple in Hamilton County issued a marriage license,” according to County Clerk Kathy Williams in a comment provided by the county. “They were married by a Justice of the Peace on June 9, 1843.”

Marriage records from 1844. (Photo provided by Hamilton County)

The county says the records between 1882 and 1968 are handwritten in bound books. They are kept in fireproof safes, but a digitization process currently underway aims to permanently preserve the information in them.

Fireproof safe with birth and death records. (Photo provided by Hamilton County)

Williams is also a co-chair of the Hamilton County Bicentennial Commission, and says this about the need for digitization, “These records are like time capsules, allowing us to glimpse the lives of those who came before us. They remind us of the struggles, triumphs, and enduring spirit that have defined our community for two centuries.”

County Clerk Kathy Williams looks over marriage licenses. (Photo provided by Hamilton County)

The Hamilton County Health Department appears enthusiastic about the effort, too.

Susie Swenson is the Vital Records Clerk for the department. She says the books full of records contain important information about problems that plagued the past and why public health work is important.

“We know by looking at them that the primary causes of death in the 1800s were diphtheria, Scarlet fever, and Typhoid fever,” says Swenson. “These diseases are all but non-existent because of the advent of vaccinations, improved living conditions, and antibiotics.”

The Health Department says it has successfully digitized birth and death records as far back as 1920 and is working on the rest.

Susie Swenson from the Hamilton County Health Department shows off birth records. (Photo provided by Hamilton County)

The clerk’s office is also working on documents related to immigration, marriage, divorce, estates, wills, and criminal records.

The handwritten books are not open for public inspection, but you can request copies of the information in them, even if it dates back decades.

Click here if you need a birth or death record from Hamilton County. Click here to request all other forms.