ELKTON — Imagine turning on a computer, searching an event in Cecil County from the last century, and presto, the newspaper article flashes across your screen.

Or, imagine turning on that same computer only this time searching for an African American who may have been a slave in Cecil County and again, there he or she is, complete with names and dates. Well, it’s no longer a figment of anyone’s imagination. The day is here.

The Historical Society of Cecil County stepped into the electronic age last week when it took possession of electronic versions of the Cecil County Slave Records (1853-64), Alms House Record books, the Elkton Press (1823-29), Perryville Record (1893-1904) and nine bound volumes of the Cecil Democrat. In addition, thanks to the work of one of our volunteers, 10 years and counting worth of the old Cecil County Star newspapers have also been electronically scanned.

All of the county records were e-scanned through a $6,000 grant from the Cecil County Video Lottery Terminal Local Community Grant Program. An additional $11,000 in society funds, partially subsidized through generous donations from several society members, paid for the Elkton Press, Perryville Record and Cecil Democrat newspaper scans. All of the work on these documents was done by the Crowley Company, an imaging services business in Frederick. The scans were placed on CDs, and handed over to the society which downloaded them to the society server where they will be available at no charge to our members and a small $5 charge to non-members.

Society board member and historian Mike Dixon said this effort is time driven.

“Paper was never designed to survive the passage of centuries and the society’s manuscript and newspaper holdings are enormous,” he said. “The newspapers especially were rapidly deteriorating due to age and the fragile nature of newsprint. Thus, we are implementing a number of strategies to both preserve aging documents and make the materials available in modern formats.”

One of those modern formats is a new way to read old microfilm reels using a new digital reader, purchased by the society last year. Dixon said that digital device is being put to work.

“One of our volunteers, Alan Gardner, is working with this new reader/scanner to convert microfilm, an earlier preservation format, into e-products,” he added. “Those word searchable images of the Cecil Star newspaper are also on the society server and ready for review by patrons.”

Society President Paula Newton said the society submitted another application this year to the county in order to do more scanning of county and county-related documents.

“Our proposal this time will include more county records, starting with the most fragile: Cecil County Assessments including at least 18 volumes starting in 1786, one volume each of the Cecil County Prison Logbook and Board of Health, 11 volumes of Cecil County Levy Court Assessments, two volumes of 1730s era Cecil County Minute Books (in very poor condition, but could be very valuable), school board records, Town of Elkton records, and a couple of volumes of North East records,” she said. “We won’t know what the grant amount will be until the county reviews the applications.”

All of the scanned material is available for review and research this Saturday when the society will be open starting at 10 a.m. just before our 341st birthday celebration for Cecil County. See our website at www.cecilhistory.org for more information.

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