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County register, recorder offices work to keep up with times

| Monday, April 23, 2007

With names like Pennsylvania founder William Penn, billionaire Bill Gates and entertainer Art Linkletter on some of Armstrong County's documents, the last thing county officials wanted was to lose any of those records.

"We now have on computer all of the deed records dating back to 1805, when the county was formed," said Beverly Claypool Casella, the county's recorder of deeds, register of wills and clerk of orphans' court. "We're one of two counties in the state that does."

Casella said Gates and Linkletter have their names in the books for oil and gas leases in the county.

In addition, the property transactions of the first settlers in the county were very important documents to save, she said.

"The first 274 dockets on record were all handwritten," Casella said. "With all that fancy writing, we didn't want to lose any of the value, so we had them photographed and put into the system. They're beautiful. The writing is gorgeous."

The county charges a fee to copy documents in-house and has contracted with the Infocon Corp.'s county access system to have those records searched online by the public and a fee returned to the county for use of the files online. The address is www.infoconcorporation.com.

"Genealogists drove us crazy," Casella said. "With the new computer system, now they're in and out in 10 minutes or they go online."

The project to scan every deed into the computer bank was started in 2000 at a cost of $245,000 to the county. It was completed in January.

"In this office, nothing can be destroyed," Casella said. "That's why we had to do all of this to try to save everything to protect the public's interest."

The county has copied marriage license dockets dating from 1885.

"The ink was disappearing on the pages," Casella said. "What would people do• The first thing Social Security asks you is if you are married. You need to produce a certified copy."

In 2006, the Recorder of Deeds Office recorded 11,775 deeds, mortgages, rights of way, leases and powers of attorney along with 132 notary bonds and commissions. Numerous veterans' discharges were recorded free of charge. Total counter receipts for those transactions was more than $530,000.

In addition, state and township/borough/school district realty transfer taxes were collected in the amount of nearly $2 million, of which the county receives a commission.

The Register of Wills Office created more than 500 files for a total counter receipt of more than $64,000 and inheritance taxes collected for the state was about $2.8 million of which the county receives a commission.

In the Clerk of Orphans' Court Office, 471 marriage licences were issued and numerous petitions for minors and incapacitated persons to complete estate files were filed for receipts of $45,247.

The total amount collected in the three offices last year was $5.4 million.

Casella next wants to protect the documents under the Register of Wills and Clerk of Orphans Court offices by putting them on computer.

Currently, files from 1805 to 1955 have been copied to microfilm. The rest are on paper.

"Those older papers were crumbling," Casella said.

There is a machine that takes microfilm and scans it into the computer and matches the files by their index numbers.

"That's something we need to look at," Casella said. "We don't have the money, but hopefully the commissioners can find some way to pay for it."

Casella has worked in the Register/Recorder's Office since 1956 and has been its elected officer since 1989. She will retire at the end of this year.

"The biggest change I've seen is that there has been more change and updating from 1989 until now as there was in all the previous years before," Casella said. "The way we're running the office now is more efficient and cost effective."

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