Lowell Deeds

The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell

January 18, 2008


by @ 6:36 am. Filed under Registry Ops

DUC is my acronym for the “doctrine of unintended consequences,” something we run into often here at the registry. Sometimes it’s for the good; sometimes not. My favorite example occurred early in my tenure here. I was concerned about our ability to recover from a catastrophic loss of our record books despite the accepted wisdom that “everything’s backed up on microfilm.” I wanted proof. So I took one of our oldest books off of the shelf and stuck it in a filing cabinet in my room. I then told the person who was responsible for our microfilm that the book had been misplaced and that in case it didn’t show up again, I’d like to see what kind of replacement pages our microfilm would yield. A few days later she returned with pristine paper copies of the first ten pages of the book and told me that our microfilm company had scanned the microfilm to create those images. By that time (it was 1995), I already knew something about creating digital images from paper on a flatbed scanner, but I had never heard of scanning microfilm. We looked into it and soon we were shipping off mass quantities of our microfilm to be scanned in bulk. By 1999, every document in our possession from 1987 back to the 1600s were transformed into digital images by this method.

Our most recent run-in with DUC (Doctrine of Unintended Consequences) does not have such a happy ending. Several years ago we went through all of our digital images and “redacted” (blacked out) social security numbers. We only did it in our electronic documents, not in our record books. These days, we are trying to improve the quality of our digital images by rescanning many of them, this time from the original books and not from the microfilm. (This method yields a much better image). The project is proceeding nicely, but we just realized that the books we are rescanning have the social security numbers in them. We don’t want to blacken out the SSNs in the record books, so we’re going to go back and do it to the electronic images even though we’ve already done it once.

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