Norfolk County Register of Deeds is Making History Come to Life

January 6, 2016 Bob Gerencser

Our country’s history is dramatic, fierce and impressive. It has all the elements of a New York Times bestseller full of heroes and villains and twists and turns. The events of our past tell the story of who we are and where we came from. Teaching, learning and knowing that history is vital to our nation’s preservation.

Famous author Michael Crichton said, “If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.” The Norfolk Registry of Deeds in Massachusetts understands this importance and is taking steps to bring history to life and preserve elements of our country’s founding for future generations.

Norfolk County page_Page_1

The Norfolk County Registry of Deeds was started in 1793 and is one of the oldest registries in the country. The county’s early deeds are handwritten including historical documents pertaining to our colonial founders including John Hancock, Paul Revere and the second President of the United States John Adams. But because the documents are handwritten in English cursive, they are hard to read and even harder to digitize. And since cursive writing hasn’t been taught in school for the past 10-12 years, the documents needed to be transcribed and preserved so future generations can read them. With our help, Norfolk County is doing just that.

The Boston Globe recently reported on this story: “Turning Hard-to-Read Cursive Into Computer Type.”

Together, Norfolk and Xerox are going through over 250,000 handwritten deeds from 1793 to 1900 that will result in nearly 12.5 million lines of information when the project is complete. The original scanned documents along with their transcribed text can be viewed on the Norfolk County website.

William O’Donnell, Norfolk County Register of Deeds, said he felt a responsibility to be a custodian of this history and to make the documents relevant and available to the public. The transcription process also ensures historical records will be correct.

“One of our early records is from John Adams second President of the United States to John Quincy Adams sixth President of the United States. Another Adams deed explained how he wanted a school built to honor John Hancock. He describes Hancock as a great benefactor of the country and outlines some of his beliefs about the school system,” said O’Donnell. “These are the words of one our nation’s first leaders and now they will be preserved forever for future generations to study and enjoy.”

More details about the project can be read in The Patriot Ledger article,From quill pen to pixels.”

About the Author

Account Executive, Xerox Services

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