Marriage licenses unfolded on table

Davis County hard at work preserving historical records with USHRAB grant funds

Mahala Ruddell

Introduction:

The Utah State Historical Records Advisory Board (USHRAB) is currently accepting applications for its latest grant funding round. Grants are available for short-term projects meant to preserve and promote access to historical records held by libraries, museums, historical societies, and other non-profits as well as state and local government entities.

Have you ever wondered what one of these projects looks like while in-progress? Today, we hear from Becky Wright, archivist with the Davis County Clerk/Auditor’s office. The County received USHRAB funding last summer and has been working hard to preserve historical marriage licenses and applications as well as oaths of office. Below, Becky shares photos of their project and tells us what it’s like to do this important preservation work.


By Becky Wright, Archivist, Davis County Clerk/Auditor’s Office

The Davis County Clerk/Auditor’s Office doesn’t have any control over how long couples stay together when they get married, but we do everything we can to make sure their marriage records are permanently preserved  —  that’s why we applied for a Utah State Historical Records Advisory Board grant in 2019.

Davis County has more than 93,000 marriage licenses and applications, dating from 1887 to the present, and thousands of them were folded and housed in an antique file cabinet. Over the years, some of these records were damaged as drawers were opened and closed. Modern licenses and applications were filed in colored folders on open shelves and needed more protection. 

Thanks to the grant award, and matching funds the Clerk/Auditor had already budgeted for preservation, these records are being carefully unfolded, scanned into a database to decrease handling, and rehoused in archival quality folders and document cases. The Davis County Historical Records Preservation Project will also allow approximately 2,800 oaths of office and bond documents, dating back to 1869, to be moved into archival folders and storage cases.

Box of archival boxes
An order for archival materials was placed shortly after notice of the grant award was received. Opening the large delivery of folders, document cases, spacers, interleaving paper, and polyester sleeves was so exciting!

Archivists have spent the past nine months carefully processing the records. While most of the old documents are in good condition, there are some that have required special attention. A few marriage licenses were turned in to the County with food or grease on them, and some applications were accompanied by letters on paper that’s now turning yellow. To keep these items from affecting adjacent documents, they are being sandwiched between pieces of interleaving paper. Records with sticky tape residue, or that are extremely fragile or torn, are being placed in clear polyester L-sleeves.

Marriage license application in archival sleeve
Records that are extremely fragile or torn are now housed in clear polyester L-sleeves.

The Clerk/Auditor’s archivists are fulfilling the grant requirement of a public access component by creating an online catalog using ArchivesSpace. When the catalog goes live, citizens will be able to see an inventory of collections held by the Clerk/Auditor’s Office, including descriptions of the collections and years covered.

Open archival box with processed records
As records are rehoused, each folder and document case is labeled with a call number which is entered in the catalog.

Most of the grant project has gone smoothly, but there have been challenges  —  discovering a few more folders were needed than the original estimate, creating the catalog and County call numbers based on the Library of Congress classification system, needing a flatbed scanner, and a staff member taking maternity leave. Each of those challenges was overcome with teamwork and creative thinking  —  and a little bit of luck. The latest challenge is limited staffing in the office because of the pandemic, but we look forward to being able to finish this grant project because it is so gratifying to see rows of archival cases protecting these important public records.

Archival boxes on shelves
The finished product is rows of historical and modern records housed safely in archival folders and boxes