$300,000 document restoration project costs taxpayers nothing

Debra Shipp and Sam Towler show a book of digitized, restored marriage bonds from 1780-1785, which Shipp scanned as part of a restoration project. Debra Shipp and Sam Towler show a book of digitized, restored marriage bonds from 1780-1785, which Shipp scanned as part of a restoration project.

Debra Shipp, clerk of the Albemarle County Circuit Court, proudly displays a collection of restored marriage licenses bound in sleek, black binders, which she lined on a shelf chronologically from the 1968 all the way back to 1780.

The goal of this restoration project—which began back in June 2009—was to digitize, restore and further preserve all of the county’s marriage licenses, marriage bonds, deed books and surveyor’s books on record. With a total bill of $307,471.16, Shipp says September 28 that not a cent of that money came from the county or taxpayers, but was paid with grants from the Library of Virginia and the Jamestown Society.

Brian Spearman with Kofile Preservation in Dallas, Texas, says he preserved the documents by chemically treating them through de-acidification and further amended documents that were ripped or torn in several pieces.

Flipping through the book of marriage bonds—an actual bond that posted indicating a man’s intention to wed—from 1780-1785, he points to a record that is now in two pieces from decades of wear and tear. He has put the documents back together with fibers of thin, translucent tissue.

“This is the permanent history that’s gone,” he says while running his fingers over missing words caused by the tear in the page, “but Albemarle is very fortunate that they have all their records. …We wanted to make sure that these records would be here for future generations.”

Now that Shipp is finished with scanning and digitizing, she says her next step will be importing the documents into the court’s computer system so the public can access them that way, as well.

Her friend and volunteer Sam Towler is now working to preserve the court’s chancery files, wills, divorces and other miscellaneous records in a similar way by unfolding them and putting them in acid-free folders and boxes. He’s creating an index of the records along the way and, with no end in sight, hopes to recruit some UVA students as volunteers soon.


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