OROVILLE — In a back room in the Hall of Records in Oroville Tuesday, three women were converting hand-written ledger pages into crisp san-serif type on a computer screen.
“You can’t OCR that,” said county archivist Melinda Rist of a page of flamboyant cursive that volunteer Adrienne Pustejovsky was transcribing. Optical character recognition allows scanning of some paper documents into a computer document, but this project requires human eyes and keyboard skills.
The crew is transcribing the ledger books into a searchable computer database. They are working through the general index books, which tell where documents like deeds, mortgages or leases that were recorded with the county can be found.
Those documents are already on microfilm, accessible by computers in the Hall of Records, but you have to know what you’re looking for to find them. The indexes tell you where to look; they’re a road map to the past.
For instance, a line in the ledger Pustejovsky was working on said that a May 28, 1905, transaction between “Albert, Geo. L. + Wesley, et al.” and Max Goodday, could be found in Deed book 82, page 182.
Currently finding a transaction involving a Max Goodday would involve hours of going through ledgers on a computer in the research room at the Hall of Records, page by page. A search for the name wouldn’t work because the documents are handwritten and really can’t be converted into a form that can be a searched.
But when the index Pustejovsky is working on is done, searching it for Max Goodday would direct you to Deed book 82, page 182, and straight to what you were looking for.
A lot of transcribing has already been done, and Rist showed how it worked in the research room. On one computer she entered the name “Bidwell,” figuring that guy would have recorded some transactions with the county.
Clicking on one item on the lengthy list that came up, led to a index of the documents in one of the county’s ledger books. That computer index was the product of Rist’s volunteers. It included the entry: “Bidwell, John to State of California, 02/01/1887 (page 557).”
Moving to another computer, Rist entered the ledger book number and page number 557, and up came an image of the deed by which Bidwell conveyed land to the state “to establish a Branch State Normal School in Northern California.” The school, of course, evolved into Chico State University.
Rist said the public is starting to access the information from the old ledger books to find out things like when a house was built. But the indexes are critical to find things, and “without the volunteers, we couldn’t have done it at all.”
She could use a little more help, typists mainly. There are 40 books still to transcribe, and each takes 175 to 200 hours. She said most of her volunteers come in once a week, about four hours at time. Anyone who’d like to help can contact her at MRist@buttecounty.net, or 538-6367.