As Carroll County’s Clerk of the Circuit Court, Gerald Goad and his staff are responsible for nearly 800 different duties.
And while Goad takes each and every one of those responsibilities seriously, he has a particularly affinity for one of those duties – the county’s chief record keeper. Since taking office as Carroll County’s Clerk of the Circuit Court in 2015, Goad has secured more than $40,000 in grant funds to help protect and preserve Carroll County’s documents and history – some dating prior to the county’s formation in 1842.
Now, Goad and a dedicated group of volunteers are tackling the challenge or preserving and digitizing Carroll’s chancery records from 1842-1912. Chancery records are what civil cases used to be referred to as, including divorces, land disputes and road disputes.
“We actually have some documents that we have been holding dating as far back as 1839, which was three years before the county was formed. The county actually formed from Grayson County and we have got some documents here that say Grayson County on them. It has been an interesting thing,” Goad said. “As the custodian of record of the county, I feel it is my due diligence as an elected official in making sure all documents are protected and preserved. The historical documents are just as important if not more important than the documents we are recording today. We have a lot of volunteers that come every week through the historical society, through the genealogy club, an organization called People, Inc., as well as high school and college interns, and they have done a tremendous job.”
The process to digitize Carroll County’s chancery records actually began Goad’s first year in office. The result of that work is now available through the Library of Virginia’s website, which includes Carroll County’s chancery records from 1842-1912, including scanned, digitized images all the way up to 1886.
“It has been a lot of help through volunteers, through staff and through community support and definitely through the Library of Virginia. They have the images up to 1886 right now, so we are a little better than halfway there,” Goad said. “Now 1913 up to the present, that is what some of these volunteers are working on now, trying to get them in acidic-free boxes and eventually complete Phase I and then go into the scanning.”
It’s a process that is time-consuming and often challenging. While the county’s archive room has been upgraded with a pair of air conditioning units, it was not always the case. And after more than 150 years, many of those old documents and records are moldy and, in some cases, tattered. Chancery records are filled with a wealth of information. Title searches and attorneys often used them to determine outcomes in cases, while genealogists use them because they often include the names of many ancestors.
“What has happened with the chancery records, a lot of them were kept in the metal-pullout drawers. We are working to flatten them out and put them into acidic-free boxes for better storage for better preservation,” Goad said. “Right now with them currently in bundles, they face a lot of deterioration. It’s almost impossible to do research because they are in bundles and they are not really organized that well. So what we are trying to do is really create a better control system for these historical documents. That is the first phase.”
In 2017, Goad’s office received capital improvement funds from the Carroll County Board of Supervisors to provide for two HVAC units as well as acidic-free boxes. Those were the first steps in reaching a climate-controlled environment in an archive room where humidity and moisture had long ruled the day.
“There are actually standards you have to meet in order to protect documents, so I really appreciate the help from the board of supervisors and the county administrator’s office in securing that funding to help preserve our historical documents for the archives room,” said Goad, who also made several trips to Fredericksburg Circuit Court in North Virginia in his personal time for more acidic-free storage boxes.
“The first phase is getting everything out of these metal-pullout drawers and flattened out so they are better indexed and better filed and easily accessible. The second phase will be eventually scanning these documents,” Goad said, adding the goal is for the original documents to be digitized so the originals can stay in storage.
It’s all a small part of a master plan to digitize and preserve all of the records of Carroll’s Circuit Court. Many improvements have been made over the past four years, including the availability of every single land document and plat online through the Circuit Court’s Secure Remote Access program. The process to scan criminal and civil files began early in 2017. A new Officer of the Court Remote Access allows attorneys and officers of the court to access case files for $150 annually. The Secure Remote Access to land records is open to anyone for a $25 monthly fee.
A scan of marriage licenses is also ongoing and online from 1999 to present. Wills since 1842 are available in the Secure Remote Access program, as are financial statements and judgments.
“Accessibility is a key for everyone. As clerk one thing I really try to enforce is accessibility because we are an office of public record,” Goad said. “It gives me a tremendous sense of accomplishment. It gives me a sense of true public service because now people have more access to records than they have before. I can’t thank the Library of Virginia enough for actually featuring this and being able to provide a lot of the assistance to clerks of court across the state. We must protect history. And history is very vital in our society today.”
As a bit of a family historian himself, Goad knows the importance of preserving that history. He beamed with pride as he hunted down the oath of office of his great-great uncle, Dexter Goad, who just happened to be Carroll County’s Clerk of Court during the infamous 1912 courthouse shootout. Nearby was the oath of office for Sheriff Lewis Webb, who was killed in the same shootout.
With the Library of Virginia’s assistance, Goad has even provided a listing that can now be found online (Virginia’s Untold) to access the Free African-American Slave Registry for Carroll County. Additionally, Goad recently was able to secure a letter from 1842 that was part of the county’s formation thanks to some anonymous donors. He hopes to present the letter to the Carroll County Board of Supervisors on loan in the near future. It has the names of 13 people on it and is signed by John B. Mitchell.
“It shows appreciation of history and it is priceless. I can’t thank enough the anonymous donors that brought this back to the place it belongs,” Goad said. “I do try to encourage if you do find old documents that does have the Carroll Circuit Court name on it, let me know. I am responsible as a record keeper of the county to make sure documents are well kept and secure.”
While working to preserve many of the county’s records, a pair of intercession groups from Carroll County High School helped the group of local volunteers with the process.
“We were very excited about that. A lot of children haven’t seen that type of handwriting before. They were very astonished. They couldn’t believe how historic some of the documents were they were handling,” Goad said. “I think it was very beneficial. I think they were able to see some things they had never got to see before, and hopefully it will continue.”
Once all records are preserved, scanned, and moved to acidic-free boxes, Goad said the goal is to move the metal-pullout to old Carroll County Courthouse “because that is where we feel they belong.” Volunteers are always welcomed and encouraged with the ongoing courthouse record preservations.
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN