- Associated Press - Saturday, June 25, 2016

GOSHEN, Ind. (AP) - Before the widespread use of the internet and storing everything digitally, cities and counties needed a way to preserve important documents while also conserving space.

The answer? Microfilm.

Microfilm is tape that contains small images of photos, newspapers and essentially any document. The Elkhart County Microfilm Department was started in 1980 to fulfill the need to reduce storage space used for documents kept in large volumes while saving them for many, many years.

That’s why the county went with microfilm, because it has been proven to last 500 years, micrographic technician JoAnn Lung, said.

The department currently houses more than 2,300 rolls of 35mm and 16mm film. A 35mm roll can hold 1,200 pages or two large bound volumes and 16mm can hold between 3,500 and 4,000 pages, she said.

And on those rolls are documents such as deed records, marriage records, commissioner’s minutes, building department permits, bankruptcy records, surveyor’s books and many others, Lung said.

“We’ve done some abstract books for the historical society,” she said. “Those were on onion skin paper with a really purple or pink typing. Back then they had some of the treaties from the Indians to the city of Elkhart for land.”

Lung has been with the department since it started nearly three decades ago. Surprisingly, not much has changed despite technology soaring past what was available in the 1980s, she said.

Still, the department now stores many of the documents in “electronic file cabinets.”

“Depending on how the office wanted their documents indexed depends on how we retrieve it,” Lung said. “It’s a little faster. Things are done more accurately and you can find things quicker.”

Albeit more and more documents are stored electronically, Lung said there are still advantages to keeping them on microfilm. Microfilm is relatively low cost, reliable and only needs to be stored in a cool, dry place. Also, microfilm is still available even when newer technology fails, she said.

“If it’s a newer record and the system goes down, you’re done,” she said.

The county still backs up some documents the “old-fashioned way” by putting them onto microfilm, a process Lung said she enjoys.

Before scanning the documents, Lung has to do the “prep work” like taking out staples or ironing documents that have been folded and creased or even wadded up. The documents are then scanned and either stored electronically or converted to film.

Although, what gets recorded on microfilm also depends on what the document is. They primarily put large volumes and maps on microfilm now. However, the last documents to be recorded were commissioner’s minutes in February, Lung said.

Yet what they receive today to be recorded may be a document from 20, 50 or even 100 years ago. Some of the oldest documents on microfilm at the county are from the early- and mid-1800s.

And that’s where a lot of the fun comes in, Lung said. Seeing the history saved on the film, especially the handwriting, is like going back into time.

“A lot of the people can’t read the handwriting when they look at it,” Lung said. “I usually can read most of it. Sometimes, I’ll use a magnifying glass” because the writing is so small.

While the department primarily works with other county departments by either scanning or providing documents, some county residents come in to to check out the many microfilms.

People may come in to research when their homes was first built, often so their homes will be listed as historical, she said.

“We start with 1962 and we go all the way back to 1845,” Lung said. “You just follow it back until the name changes, then you have to follow a new name. Back then sometimes they didn’t spell the names right and you have to guess.”

Lung said she has fun helping others search through the microfilm or “playing detective.”

“It’s fun. Every day’s different. It’s never boring,” she said. “Each job is different. The different documents are so unique.”

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Source: The Elkhart Truth, http://bit.ly/28Nvkub

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Information from: The Elkhart Truth, http://www.elkharttruth.com

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