Records Loss in Franklin County, NC

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 DescriptionDisposition InstructionsNC Statute
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)
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.

Document of genealogical interest

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

Moldy records

The State of North Carolina has been collecting government records for over 100 years since the Historical Commission was formed in 1903. The North Carolina State Archives, which was developed from the Historical Commission, is one of the oldest state preservation agencies in the country, recently having celebrated its 70th anniversary. The permanent retention of every government record being an unsustainable enterprise, the Government Records Section of the State Archives of North Carolina carefully analyzes government record-keeping systems and statutory obligations in order to identify record series of enduring value. This records management program, which has existed since the 1940s, thus ensures the protection of citizens’ rights while making efficient use of taxpayer dollars.9

So, what can you do to prevent this from happening in your county or state?

  • Learn about your state records retention schedule, and encourage your county officials to be compliant with its recommendations;
  • Get involved with your state genealogical society, and facilitate communication and collaboration with your local historical or county genealogical society;
  • Support necessary funding at the local, state, and national level so that your public records can be protected in appropriate storage!

Victoria P. Young, a professional genealogist, is President-elect of the North Carolina Genealogical Society where she has served on the board since 2007.

1 Dick Eastman, “Franklin County, NC Destroys 100 Year Old Record”, Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter, 11 December 2013, e-mail newsletter (http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2013/12/franklin-county-nc-destroys-100-year-old-records.html: accessed 11 December 2013).
2 Diane Taylor Torrent, “Timeline of the Destruction of 100 Year Old Franklin County, NC Records,” Heritage Society of Franklin County, NC Facebook (http://goo.gl/vnak1s: accessed 11 December 2013).
3 The author communicated with the executive board via email on 11 December 2013. The North Carolina Genealogical Society, a 501-C non-profit, was founded in 1974 and today has about 1,000 members. More information may be found at www.ncgenealogy.org.
4 Rebecca McKee-Lankford, Assistant State Records Administrator, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC, to Franklin County Officials, Louisburg, NC, letter, 29 October 2013, authorizing records destruction, including a detailed records listing; http://goo.gl/YIRNlN: accessed 15 December 2013.
5 Diane Taylor Torrent, The Heritage Society of Franklin County, to Patricia B. Chastain, Franklin County Clerk of Court, letter, 10 October 2013, an inventory of discovered records found in the basement in May of 2013; http://goo.gl/u9Lljh: accessed 15 December 2013.
6 Letter, Sarah C. West, Safety & Health Specialist, NC Administrative Office of the Courts, Raleigh, NC, to Patricia B. Chastain, Clerk of Superior Court, Louisburg, NC, letter, 21 October 2013; http://goo.gl/APIvdV: accessed 15 December 2013.
7 State Department of Archives and History, Franklin County Records Inventory & Schedules (Raleigh, NC: Division of Archives and History, 1964); http://goo.gl/RYnaCA: accessed 15 December 2013.
8 West to Chastain, 21 October 2013.
9 Carolyn Chasarino, North Carolina State Archives Government Records Unit Supervisor, Raleigh, NC, to Becky McGee-Lankford, email, 15 November 2013, discussing three documents identified by Diane Taylor Torrent as archival records; http://goo.gl/WstBgi: accessed 15 December 2013.