Lowell Deeds

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

March 18, 2008

Pre-1976 Indexes on Computer

by @ 4:23 pm. Filed under Website

Index information from 1976 to the present is available in a searchable database on public access computers in the registry and remotely via the internet. Earlier indexes will soon be available in a different way. Some time ago, we scanned all of the pre-1976 indexes for disaster recovery purposes – they had never been microfilmed – and the resulting images were quite good. So good, in fact, that we completely changed our approach to adding index information to our computer system. Rather than spend thousands of hours (or dollars) doing data entry, we decided instead to present the scanned images of the existing paper indexes as electronic books. After all, back when we produced a current index on paper as well as on the computer, registry users would often say that they preferred the paper version because it allowed them to flip forward and back through the pages, potentially catching spelling variations that would otherwise be missed on the more precise database search.

Here’s how these “electronic index books” work. We have duplicated the Grantor-Grantee and date range divisions that existed in the paper books. For example, there are ten sets of books divided into the following year groupings: 1639-1855; 1855-1880; 1881-1900; 1901-1915; 1916-1925; 1926-1940; 1941-1950; 1951-1960; 1961-1965; 1966-1975. Within each of these date ranges, we have taken all the images containing names that begin with the letter “A” for example, and bundled them into a single PDF file. Since some of these files may contain 800 or more images/pages, they are quite large and cannot be made available over the internet in their current form (but more on that later). To assist users in finding the relevant entries, we have created a table of contents consisting of the first name on every page and the corresponding page number. To illustrate, let’s say you’re interested in Grantee Index entries for “Richard Howe” in the 1940s. After navigating your way through the Grantee folder to the 1941-1950 folder, to the letter “H” folder, you would peruse the table of contents looking for that name. You see that the closest name that alphabetically precedes it is “Raymond Howe” on page 581 and that the first name on the next page (582) is “Samuel Howe.” Using the “go to page” feature in the Adobe PDF viewer, you enter “581” and are immediately forwarded to that page. You view the page just as you would view that page in the paper index book. If you want to flip backwards or forwards, you use the “next” and “previous” page arrows to do it. It’s as simple as that. When you find an entry of interest, you just jot down the book and page on your legal pad, just as you do with the paper index, and then use the appropriate computer application to display the image of that book and page. That’s how it all works.

We’ve made these PDF files to our customers on CD for several years now, providing them on a barter system that requires the customer to provide us with a set of blank CDs which we swap with CDs containing these PDF files. Registry employees have used them for years on our internal network, rarely having to look at paper index books. On April 1, 2008 when we make the leap to the entirely paperless registry, these PDF files will be available on most public access terminals within the registry. Users will find this method of viewing our pre-1976 indexes superior to the current method. As for offsite access to this data, we’re working with a computer consultant to devise a simple application that will work on the internet, but that’s still a few months away.

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