The Clark County Historical Society’s two-year undertaking to preserve thousands of local probate court records not only won a state award recently, it wasn’t anywhere as boring as it sounds.
There was the lunacy case involving a woman named Cinderella, and the will of a gentleman named Manly Goodfellow.
And then there was the early 1930s case of John and William Evilsizor — busted for using dynamite to kill fish in the Mad River.
“When you come across those little gems, it’s cool to find those,” said Mel Glover, a curatorial technician at the historical society, which is housed in the Heritage Center of Clark County.
Dating back to 1818, the records — wills, guardianships, name changes, alcohol offenses and the occasional criminal case — came to the society in the 1980s from Clark County Probate Court, folded up and stuffed into little envelopes. Staff, volunteers and interns spent the past two years flattening and placing about 10,000 of them in acid-free folders and boxes, simultaneously saving the files and making them easier for the public to access.
For that effort, the historical society won one of two 2012 achievement awards presented last week by the Ohio Historical Records Advisory Board, or OHRAB, which is part of the Ohio Historical Society.
“We didn’t expect it to be as interesting as it was,” curatorial assistant Natalie Fritz confessed.
The local historical society’s project to preserve the court records has been on-again and off-again since the ’80s. This latest round started in 2011 after the historical society won a $1,500 grant from OHRAB, which was available to help improve access to historic government documents. The historical society was able to win a second $1,500 grant last year to continue the work.
In that two-year period, 17 volunteers used 8,000 acid-free file folders and placed the material in 210 archival boxes, Fritz said.
In a statement announcing the award winners, OHRAB called the project ambitious and creative in its use of the public to help.
“There is no way we could get any of this done without our volunteers,” Glover said.
In 2011, workers managed to make their way through county probate records from 1908 to 1924. Last year, they were able to get to 1931.
Notable finds this past year included the will of Jonathan Winters’ grandfather. The legendary comedian grew up in Springfield.
Other finds included a guardianship case involving a “shell-shocked” World War I veteran and a Prohibition-era case in which authorities found a bottle of whiskey under the floor of an “outside toilet” on Summit Street.
Fritz estimated they still have another year of work ahead of them, but a new, different grant will allow the historical society to instead focus this year on reboxing and taking inventory of its collections.
“We’re trying to marshal our resources the best we can,” Glover said.
The work done on the court records will help people doing family research, giving them a better sense of the times in which their descendants lived — for better or for worse.
This past year, for example, one volunteer came across a 1925 case involving a man accused of operating something along the lines of a brothel, Fritz said. Another volunteer working at the time asked them to repeat the name of the defendant.
“It was her grandfather,” Fritz said, “whom she had not known.”
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