Paperless Search

In most county courthouses, a search for old documents requires leafing through big, heavy old books in which some of the older information was entered in handwriting. Needless to say, it can be a cumbersome process.

Gas and oil companies’ need for land and mineral rights records has resulted in overcrowding at many courthouses. It would not have to be so bad if records could be accessed in digital form via the Internet.

Many counties have begun the work of converting, or digitizing, old courthouse records. But that can take years, because local county governments are limited in resources they can dedicate to the work.

Here’s an idea: Why not use some of the money gas and oil companies pay in severance taxes and other fees to speed up the process of transcribing information from old record books into electronic files? Energy companies might even be willing to provide grants for some of the work, simply because it would benefit them.

The advantage is clear: With paper records, a document can be used by only one person at a time. In a digital format, it can be accessed by an unlimited number of people – anywhere in the world.

Genealogy researchers are well aware of the system. It has been a godsend for them. It would be beneficial to others, too.

County and state officials in West Virginia should be looking into what can be done to speed up the process of digitizing old records, without placing a new burden on most taxpayers.