Government Records News
News from the State and Local Government Record Commissions
Vol. 3 No. 1 May 1998


On Sunday, March 8, the Pea River levee in Elba broke following extended rainfall, flooding the downtown area for the third time in a decade. As they had in 1990, staff members from the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) provided on-site assistance to both Coffee County and the City of Elba in salvaging wet and muddy records.

ADAH archivists contacted county and municipal officials the day after the disaster. On Wednesday the 11th, Tracey Berezansky and Tom Turley of the Government Records Division, and Linda Overman, the department's conservation officer, arrived at the county government complex in New Brockton, where records from Elba had been transported after the disaster. Here our staff met with Probate Judge Bill Gammill and his chief clerks for Elba and Enterprise, Bob Edmondson and Susan Carmichael. Fortunately, Mr. Edmondson had been able to rescue almost 90% of the records in Elba in time to keep them dry. Probate staff members were already at work air-drying the wet records according to instructions telephoned by Linda Overman. The most heavily damaged historical item was a marriage book that dated from the 1880s. Linda offered instruction on interleaving it with paper towels to soak up water, and on disbinding and encapsulating the volume after it was dried. Building on the lessons learned in 1990, Coffee County's probate officials did an outstanding job of salvaging their records. Damaged photostats, which normally must be vacuum freeze-dried, were air-dried successfully with very little record information lost. The county enjoyed an additional safeguard because many of its probate records (such as deeds, wills, and marriages) had already been microfilmed under a cooperative agreement between ADAH and the Genealogical Society of Utah.

On arriving at the Elba courthouse, our archivists discovered that records in the other county offices were in better shape than they had feared. Water inside the building had risen only three or four feet (compared to ten feet in 1990), leaving ample time for county officials to move most volumes to the second floor. Only a handful of the revenue commissioner's books had gotten wet. Damage to the court records was more serious, but Steve Tomberlin and staff of the Administrative Office of Courts (AOC) were already assisting in recovering them. AOC hired a commercial vendor, Disaster Recovery Services, Inc., to vacuum freeze-dry waterlogged records from the courthouse. Before returning to Montgomery, ADAH staff stopped briefly at the Elba Public Library to survey damage and advise the librarian on salvage methods. All remaining Coffee County offices, such as the board of health and sheriff, are located in Enterprise or New Brockton and thus escaped the flood.

On Friday, March 13, ADAH staff, including Chris Davidson, returned to downtown Elba to investigate the situation at the city hall. Here no recovery operation had been started, and the damage was more severe due to the length of time the records had been wet. Employing the ADAH municipal general records schedules, Herbie McCall, a representative from the city clerk's office, identified and marked some thirty file drawers (forty-five cubic feet) of minutes, personnel files, and unaudited financial records that required vacuum freeze-drying. Staff from Disaster Recovery Services returned that afternoon to pack the sodden files (and others from the city police department) for shipment to the vendor's facility in Ft. Worth, Texas, where they were cleaned and vacuum freeze-dried. Our last report from city clerk Don Morrow indicated that the records had been successfully salvaged and would soon return to Elba.

While this flood was not as devastating as the ones in 1990 and 1929, it caused considerable damage to Elba's public records and revealed that ADAH must do even more in helping local government officials to cope with such occurrences. Our archivists are now preparing a technical leaflet on disaster preparedness and recovery, which upon completion will be distributed to counties and municipalities across the state. Meanwhile, anyone desiring information on these topics should call the Government Records Division (334- 242-4452) or the department's conservation officer, Linda Overman (334-242-4437, ext. 229).

Department of Archives and History to Acquire New Wing

On March 30, Governor Fob James signed into law House Bill 317, which authorizes a $12 million bond issue for constructing a west wing on the Archives Building. This bill, sponsored by Speaker of the House Jimmy Clark and handled in the Senate by Senator Wendell Mitchell, passed both legislative houses with unanimous, bipartisan support. The original Archives Building dates from 1939-1941, while the east (Coley) wing was added in the early 1970s. Many factors made it necessary to augment the present ADAH facility: the lack of space for future exhibits and collections, climatic problems that endanger our artifacts and documents, and inadequate wiring to support the modern computer system needed for on-site and remote access to collections. Although west wing planning has only just begun, preliminary ideas call for an updated reference room, state-of-the-art collection storage areas, an expanded auditorium, and more space for public programs and interpretive activities. While the west wing is in progress, staff and architects will also prepare for renovating the main building and the Coley Wing in order to improve existing storage, exhibit, and public service areas. Architects for the west wing and renovation projects are Seay, Seay, and Litchfield of Montgomery.

Local Archives Roundtable to Meet in Lawrence County

The next meeting of the Local Government Archives Roundtable will be held at the Lawrence County Archives, 698 Main Street, Moulton, Alabama from 10:00 to 3:00 on Wednesday, June 24. This advisory group (formed in 1997) is composed of staff from ADAH and several county or municipal archives. It meets to discuss the issues and problems affecting local archives and to encourage the development of archival programs elsewhere in the state. For information on starting a local archives program, contact Tom Turley at the ADAH Government Records Division (334-242-4452, ext. 234). More information on the meeting is available from Tom or from Myra Borden, Lawrence County Archivist (256-974-1757).

Changes in Government Records Division Local Records Staff

There have been a number of recent changes in Government Records Division personnel. On March 13, Sandra Behel, our county records archivist for almost nine years, left ADAH to accept a records management position with ALAGASCO. Lyn Frazer, who had served in both the state and local programs, resigned the same day to return to a career in teaching. We are grateful for the contributions Sandra and Lyn made to the division. Randy Cobb, a new local records archivist, joined us on May 11. He is a product of Auburn University's graduate program in archives. Previously, Randy held a student position with ADAH and worked on a Local Government Historical Records Grant project during 1994-1995. We are delighted to welcome Randy back in a professional capacity. With his arrival, the former separation between our county and municipal programs will be abandoned, and all three local records archivists (Frank Brown, Randy Cobb, and Tom Turley) will work with both counties and municipalities.

Calling All Local Historical Societies--Again!

ADAH would still like to improve its communication with Alabama's local historical societies and to compile a definitive list of them. Unfortunately, publication of this appeal in our February issue received only a minimal response. If you, as a local government official, can provide basic information on a county, municipal, or regional historical society (name, address, phone/FAX numbers, e-mail address/web site, and contact person), please call Tom Turley (ext. 234) at (334)242-4452, or write to the Government Records Division, Department of Archives and History, P.O. Box 300100, Montgomery, AL 36130-0100. We know that most counties and a number of municipalities have historical or genealogical societies, so please let us hear from you!

New Records Disposition Authorities and Schedules Approved

At its meeting on April 29, 1998, the State Records Commission approved new records disposition authorities (RDAs) for the DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH, the GEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF ALABAMA, the SPORTS HALL OF FAME, and the STATE OIL AND GAS BOARD. RDAs already in force for the ALABAMA COMMISSION ON HIGHER EDUCATION and the DEPARTMENT OF REHABILITATION SERVICES were amended at the meeting, as was a general records schedule for the ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF COURTS.

The Local Government Records Commission, at its meeting on April 29, approved a new records disposition authority (RDA) for the REGIONAL PLANNING COMMISSIONS. New general records schedules were approved for the following agencies:

COUNTY TAXATION: Manufactured Home Registration Fee Receipt Books and Manufactured Home Decals--Obsolete (2 schedules).

JUDGES OF PROBATE: Notary Bonds and Reports of Notary Public Appointments (2 schedules).

LAUDERDALE COUNTY: Applications for Sanitation Fee and Participation Exemptions (1 schedule).

The next meeting of the State and Local Government Records Commissions will be held on Wednesday, July 29, in the Milo B. Howard Auditorium of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, 624 Washington Avenue, Montgomery. Starting times are 10:00 a.m. (State) and 1:30 p.m. (Local).

"Government Records News" is published by the Government Records Division of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Box 300100, Montgomery, Alabama 36130-0100, telephone (334)242-4452. The newsletter, and other publications, are also available on-line through the ADAH web site:

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Updated: 6/10/1998