Local history buffs, property researchers and genealogy tracers now have free online access to Luzerne County Recorder of Deeds records from 1967 dating back to the county’s formation in 1786, officials said Tuesday.
“This is all part of an effort to make records more easily accessible to the public,” said county Judicial Services and Records Division Head Joan Hoggarth.
The first document filed in Deed Book 1 contains Ben Franklin’s commissioning of Lord Butler as the Luzerne County sheriff in 1787.
Early handwritten deeds on subsequent pages of the book show varied spellings for county municipalities.
For example, in April 1788 a local man sold two lots in “Wilkesborough” — one of several bygone variations of Wilkes-Barre — to Philadelphia resident Timothy Pickering for 37 pounds and 10 shillings.
Previously, a trip to the deeds office in the county courthouse annex in Wilkes-Barre was necessary to view these records.
The county paid Info Quick Solutions, of Liverpool, N.Y., $192,155 to computerize the records and load them into an online database, said Mary Dysleski, who oversees deeds.
The project was funded through a deeds archive fund that comes from a $3 fee on most office recordings.
The computerization also created a backup copy of the documents. The county had microfilm copies, but the project revealed the quality of some microfilm records was poor, said Dysleski and Hoggarth.
Originally estimated at $81,000, the project cost increased because the microfilm quality forced Info Quick to scan many paper records, which is more costly, officials said.
While viewing the deed records is free, printing of the documents costs $1.50 per page.
The records may be accessed through an “IQS E Film Reader” at www.luzernecounty.org under judicial services and records using the document search link.
The county will continue to use the Landex Remote system for access to deeds from 1963 to the present and more recent marriage licenses, which requires payment of a fee, Hoggarth said. That company didn’t provide scanning from microfilm and would charge thousands of dollars to upload the older records to its site, she said.
The county received $84,112 last year from customers accessing the online Landex database containing more recent deeds and marriage licenses, Dysleski said. That revenue is expected to increase as researchers print copies of the new online deed documents.
The new online deeds database does not allow searches by name or date.
Instead, title searchers and property owners researching specific pre-1968 deeds must know the deed book and page number, Dysleski said.
Hoggarth’s division also is planning to computerize marriage licenses from 1885 through 2003 and naturalization records from the late 1820s through 1943 using other automation and archive accounts that must fund projects to preserve and access records, she said.
A project to computerize 88 old lien and judgment index books took priority because many of those records were torn and deteriorated, and there were no backup copies, Hoggarth said. The prothonotary automation fund, which comes from a fee on civil court filings, will cover the $52,000 project, scheduled for completion the end of this year, she said.
The county’s capital plan for 2017 through 2019 also includes $1.8 million to scan 13 years of old paper civil court records and 30 years of wills and estate files, although it’s unclear if enough past-borrowed funds remain to fully cover this expense.
That project would take five years and would still leave about 75 years of wills and 26 years of prothonotary records to be scanned in the future, officials said.
County Manager C. David Pedri said citizens increasingly expect online access to records.
“Customer services is a priority in the county,” he said.