Half A Million Whitfield Land Documents Going Digital

Tuesday, November 23, 2021 - by Mitch Talley, Whitfield County Director of Communications

Sometime in 2022, people who need to access deeds, records and historical land documents currently stored in the Whitfield County Clerk of Superior Court’s Office won’t even have to leave their home or office.

A husband-wife team from a company named Kofile has been busy each Monday through Friday for the past several weeks scanning nearly 170 years’ worth of property deeds and related records, which will ultimately make them available 24 hours a day, seven days a week via the internet.

Naturally, when you’re talking about scanning in nearly half a million documents, some of them oversized, it’s not a quick project, nor an inexpensive one.
County commissioners voted at their Sept. 13 meeting to approve the project at a cost of up to $516,000 – but Clerk of Superior Court Babs Bailey was able to negotiate the cost down to $498,000.

Kofile workers Bob Smith and his wife, Renee, head into the courthouse in Dalton each Monday morning, beginning hours of continual scanning each day before they head home for the weekend at the close of business Friday afternoon. After several weeks of work, they’re finally nearing the end of their scanning.

The project is especially critical for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that many of the old records which date back to the 19th century have deteriorated because of aging and constant use over the years.

“We have deed records back to 1852,” Ms. Bailey said. “I realize those aren’t going to be used in a title search, but they are historical documents. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.”

Indeed, one local attorney who spoke in support of the digitizing project at the September commission meeting told of an incident the week before where he simply couldn’t read an old plat because the ink had disappeared, despite the document having been placed inside a protective plastic cover. Fortunately, he was able to locate the original copy of the plat from a local surveyor who’s still in business.

“(Local attorney) Dan Strain pointed out to me recently that the ink is also coming off our index books, which is how you go and search for the deeds, from overuse, and some of them are hard to read,” Ms. Bailey said. “We have 266 deed books, so the index is very important because you don’t want to search through every one of them to find what you need.”

The current project will not only preserve the deeds presumably forever, but a more comprehensive index will also be produced. In addition, Kofile has software that may be able to “clean up” and restore some of the deteriorating deeds so that they are able to be read more easily. Also, having the images in digital form, stored on the cloud, means they won’t be threatened by fire or water damage, the way the original records are now.

According to Ms. Bailey, the records play an important role in the economy of the county as they are used “anytime there’s any kind of real estate matter.”

“You’d have to have your deed records if you’re purchasing, selling or if you just think you might have a landline dispute, anything like that, you’re going to come and want to search our deed records. You have to make sure you have clear title,  and typically attorneys like to go back 50 years when they’re doing a title search to make sure that the property you’re purchasing is free and clear and you’re not getting a property that has liens against it.”

Having the records available in digital form accessible over the internet would have been especially helpful during the pandemic last year, says local attorney Tom Minor.

“During the time of COVID, it was hard on the title attorneys,” Mr. Minor told the commissioners in September. “There were transactions that didn’t happen during that period because we couldn’t get the records, and for that reason alone, we really need to get these records digitized.”

Transactions also go on past 5 p.m. when the courthouse closes, he pointed out,  adding “we deal with a lot of clients all over the world, in different time zones, so it’s really important to be able to access these records 24/7. So I would speak very much in favor of this project.”

Because of its potential to help out if another pandemic were to hit, the imaging project may be eligible to be paid for through Whitfield County’s share of American Rescue Plan federal funds aimed at helping local governments cope financially with the pandemic.

Regardless of how it’s paid for, Commissioner Greg Jones told his fellow board members at the September meeting he believes the project  “needs to be done because people can’t do business without records.”

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