County considers fate of records library

Nic Antaya/The Herald
Rosie Stewart of Celestine helps Ralph Wallem of Huntingburg look for a deed on Friday in the Records Library at the Dubois County Courthouse in Jasper. Stewart, who has worked at the library since 1994, will be retiring in December 2019. She said people from all over the United States have come to the library. "You never know what you're going to run into. Everyday is different," Stewart said. 

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

The office that stores Dubois County’s historical records like plats, marriage documents and census records will stay open full time through 2019.

Come 2020, the records library, located in the basement of the Dubois County Courthouse, will likely be open part-time.

The Dubois County Commissioners decided to leave the office as is until the end of 2019, which is when archivist Rosie Stewart, who mans the office, plans to retire.

“The position is funded for next year,” said Commissioner Chad Blessinger. “I don’t find it necessary to make any changes to that office for the next year, as far as the number of hours open, or how it’s staffed.”

The library houses records that people come to research, like deeds plats, subdivisions and land transfers. The documents date back as far as August 1839. The records prior to that were destroyed in a fire in August 1839, which completely destroyed the courthouse.

“That library is utilized a lot,” said Stewart of Celestine. “People come to the library to verify information.”

As an example, she said families who apply for the Hoosier Homestead awards from the state come to the library to track information on their farms to use as proof that a farm has been owned by the same family for 100 years or more.

Blessinger had been researching whether the library should stay open full time, part time, or be closed and accessed as needed. After speaking with Stewart and learning of her future plans, he said that keeping it open as is and making changes after she retires would be best.

“She has been with us for more than 20 years,” he said. “I don’t think it’s right or fair to do any changes before next year.”

The other commissioners agreed.

Documents used the most in the library are being digitized, so that the public can access them online.

“The need for that office is lessening because of things being digitized,” Blessinger said.

But there are documents that are not being digitized that people do come to the office and search for, Stewart said.

“People come in and do genealogy work,” she said. “I have people come in from this county, other counties, all over the United States. There was one gentleman who used to come each summer from Hawaii to research his family tree. He did that each year until he died a few years ago.”

Stewart said that people come in with various inquiries about property, people and various actions, like marriages and military service. And they can’t find that information on their own.

“People need help when they come down here,” she said. “It’s nice to have someone here who can help. With the internet, things are not always accurate. So people come to this office to verify information.”

In the past, documents and records were stored in the basement of the courthouse, but they weren’t organized. When Stewart came on board in the mid 1990s, she worked with then-recorder Donna Schroeder and then-commissioner Mary Lou Schnell to organize the documents. When the courthouse was renovated in 1996, space was added on to the basement area to house the documents.

Come next year, the commissioners will look at moving transfer and plat books to the county recorder’s office. “They have a number of recorded mortgages that they don’t need up there (in the recorder’s office),” Blessinger said. “We could move those down to the library, and do a swap, so that the things people need most often would be available on the first floor of the courthouse during normal business hours.”

Around the time of determining the 2020 budget, the commissioners will consider moving the archivist position to part time. “And then people wanting some of the other things in the basement, we’d have a part-time person down there for those other purposes,” Blessinger said.

The commissioners agreed that the part-time person should be trained before Stewart retires. “Rosie has a lot of knowledge of where things are,” Blessinger said, “how things get recorded, how to help people find what they need.”

Stewart agreed that the next person should be shown the ropes. She hopes the person enjoys the position as much as she has.

“It’s an exciting job,” she said. “Every day is different. You just never know who is going to walk through that door, or what question they will bring.”




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