“Franklin County, NC Destroys 100 Year Old Records” was the byline of an article posted on Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter last week.1 Along with many who read the account of the herculean efforts of local historian Diane Taylor Torrent and others with The Heritage Society of Franklin County, NC,2 I was appalled and outraged. It seemed a matter that should have come to the attention of the North Carolina Genealogical Society, but it was confirmed that no one on the board had been contacted through official channels. One board member, Jordan Jones, who is also President of the National Genealogical Society, was contacted in his role as a voting member of the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), a joint committee of NGS, the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS).3 By the time this communication was received, however, the records had already been destroyed. Although the eventual outcome to this misfortune would likely not have been altered, certainly resources though NCGS’s affiliation with the National Genealogical Society and the Federation of Genealogical Societies would have had an impact on the public awareness of the evaluation process to facilitate a larger community discussion.
I interviewed Becky McGee-Lankford, Assistant State Records Administrator with the North Carolina Division of Archives and Records. She readily shared details about the records in question, and the process that lead to the decision of their eventual destruction.4 Information provided included an inventory of the records found in the basement of the Franklin County Courthouse that had been damaged due to benign neglect.5 The basement area has been determined by the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) to be “a serious health and safety hazard to anyone that goes into the space for any length of time.”6
Dated between the 1880s through 1969, these records, with few exception, were scheduled for retention or destruction in an inventory conducted by the State Department of Archives and History in August 1964.7 The vast majority of records were financial in nature, and many confidential: 40 boxes of cancelled checks, as well as audit receipts, tax receipts, and copies of audits. However, there were records that we as genealogists and historians would consider treasures, including marriage health certificates and delayed birth application records. Unfortunately, neither of these records are open for public inspection in North Carolina (i.e. confidential):
|Record Description||Disposition Instructions||NC Statute|
MARRIAGE HEALTH CERTIFICATES
Certificates from a regularly licensed physician
stating that no evidence of venereal disease, tuberculosis in the infectious or communicable state, or mental incompetence was found in the applicants.
|Series discontinued. Destroy in office immediately.||G.S. § 51-9 (Repealed 1994)|
VITAL RECORDS: DELAYED BIRTH APPLICATION RECORDS
Application and other records submitted as evidence in support of a delayed registration of birth. Copies are filed with the Office of Vital Records.
a.) Destroy in office after 1 year
applications and supporting documentation for a non-completed registration.
b.) Destroy in office after 1 year applications and supporting documentation for a completed registration (certificate was approved).
G.S. § 130A, Article 4
15A NCAC 19H .0400
NB: It should be noted that supporting documents submitted with delayed birth application records can be found at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The county record is the “original copy” of the delayed birth certificate.
Although there were 15 boxes of salvageable material taken by archivists to the North Carolina State Archives for preservation, there can be no dispute that there were likely documents of genealogical and historical value tragically destroyed last week. There was thought of moving some of the lesser-damaged records not defined as pertinent for state archival purposes to a clean space for citizen archivists to repair. This was addressed as “only transferring the mold spores that cannot be seen with the naked eye [but] has the potential to contaminate the air and space around these records where ever they go.”8