Franklin County Records

Below is a letter to the editor from our deputy secretary, Kevin Cherry, that appeared in The Franklin Times on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013.

Dear Editor:

In response to your Dec. 12, 2013, article entitled “County Burns Boxes of Historic Records,” the State Archives of North Carolina would like the opportunity to reflect on this chain of events.

The State Archives of N.C. has been preserving North Carolina history for more than 110 years.  We have one of, if not the most, comprehensive collections of state and local government records in any state of the country.  We are proud to continue this tradition of preservation and access to the permanently valuable records of the state.

As background to the referenced article, the State Archives of North Carolina is charged by statute with the management of all state and local government records created and retained during the normal course of business within North Carolina government offices. The Archives performs this function in a variety of ways. In conjunction with records creators (in this case Franklin County), we evaluate public records and issue records retention and disposition schedules. We provide guidance and assistance to state and local officials concerning the routine management, preservation and disposition of their records. Finally, if records are deemed to have permanent legal, evidentiary or historical value, the Archives is responsible for the long-term preservation of these records.

By law, records retention schedules are written and approved by the State Archives and the creating agency.  These schedules outline the minimum retention period for all public records and establish an appropriate disposition.

In August 2013, the Division of Archives and Records was notified by Franklin County representatives that government records from dating from 1880s through 1969 had been stored in the courthouse basement where a leaking air conditioner caused water damage to some of the records and exacerbated mold growth in the room. At the request of county officials, Division staff visited the Franklin County Courthouse Aug. 21, 2013, to assess and appraise the records stored in the basement.

Based on an inventory submitted to our office by Patricia Burnette Chastain, the Clerk of Superior Court, it was determined that a majority of the documents in the basement were financial records that were decades past the recommended period of retention. The remaining records fell under the custodianship of several local county offices including the County Manager, the Register of Deeds, and the Clerk of Superior Court. A substantial quantity of the remaining records contained confidential information, including personally identifiable and medical information.

Appraisal of these records was done using established professional standards within the state and the archival field across the country.  We consulted established and approved retention schedules and involved the local government offices for their input on any potential long-term value of the records.

Many of the records in question have been eligible for destruction since the 1960s and have routinely been destroyed in other counties in the state in accordance with the schedule.  Many of them are duplicates, confidential, drafts, or duplicated in another records series that has been saved.  The local governmental agencies make the final decision on whether records not retained by the State Archives are retained locally or destroyed.

Based on information given to our office, we verified the appropriate retention period for all records on the list provided.  If records are identified as archival on a schedule that means they fit the State Archives’ collecting policies and need to be transferred to us for permanent retention or maintained permanently by the custodial government office.

If the records are not identified as archival, once retention is reached, the local agency may elect to destroy them, as was the case in Franklin County.  The review and appraisal process for the records in question was done after many consultations among the involved parties, including the State Archives, Administrative Office of the Courts, and Franklin County officials.

The Archives currently has a substantial collection of permanently valuable Franklin County records that are available for public access, including 101 volumes, 176 fibredex boxes and 1,066 microfilm reels of records. In addition, during our visit the Archives took possession of 15 boxes of civil and criminal case files, 4 volumes of justice dockets, Criminal Court (1960s), and 1 volume of Records of Magistrates (1880s). Since these records were exposed to active mold we are taking every precaution recommended prior to reformatting these materials.

Not every piece of paper can be saved from every government office in North Carolina without creating an undue burden on government offices and taxpayers.  That is the nature of records management - to work under professional standards with records creators to determine overarching series of records that document the actions of governments protect the legal rights of citizens, and inform the history of our state.

Sincerely,

Kevin Cherry
Deputy Secretary
Director, Office of Archives and History
N.C. Department of Cultural Resources

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