Greene County archivists find one of America’s oldest printed currencies in a safe

Archives Manager Robin Heise points out some of the interesting finds in the Greene County Archives. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF

Archives Manager Robin Heise points out some of the interesting finds in the Greene County Archives. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF

Many Ohio counties have independent historical societies, but only about 17 of Ohio’s 88 counties have archives, according to Ohio History Connection. Montgomery, Warren, Butler, and Clinton counties also have archives. Between 2,200 and 2,500 people access the Greene County Archives each year, looking for wills, estates, tax records, divorce decrees, and maps. Many visitors do genealogical research, tracing their family history across the county. More and more people have come to the Archives as a result of the pandemic, Heise said.

Probate Court records, which are generally the most useful for genealogical research, begin in 1806 and continue to the present. Over the past six months, Archives staff have been working to implement the ArchivesSpace online catalog and the Preservica electronic records preservation system to make records more accessible online.

Black Americans face particular obstacles in studying their genealogy because of slavery. Very few documents date from before the Civil War. However, Greene County has one of the few records that documents the arrival of black Americans in the area. A record titled The Emancipation Record of Free Blacks is one of the rarest such records in the state of Ohio.

Greene County archivists found United States demand notes, or “greenbacks”, among the first paper money printed in the United States, in the records of Greenewood Manor after the retirement home closed l ‘last year. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF

Greene County archivists found demand notes in the United States, or "greenbacks," some of the first paper money printed in the United States, in the archives of Greenewood Manor after the retirement home closed last year.  MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF

Greene County archivists found United States demand notes, or “greenbacks”, among the first paper money printed in the United States, in the records of Greenewood Manor after the retirement home closed l ‘last year. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF

The court records of formerly enslaved black people who came to Greene County are of vital use to current residents and visitors researching their family history. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF

The court records of formerly enslaved black people who came to Greene County are of vital use to current residents and visitors researching their family history.  MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF

The court records of formerly enslaved black people who came to Greene County are of vital use to current residents and visitors researching their family history. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF

Between the years of 1805 and 1845, people of color had to have a white male resident and landowner testify on their behalf in order to settle in Greene County. They also had to post $50 bail, which was later increased to $500 to become a county resident.

At first, the files begin simply, with the names of the white sponsor and the black petitioner, some of whom are as young as nine years old, and the date of their arrival. However, the records later include physical descriptions of the claimants, since there was no other form of identification at the time.

“This, in my mind, is our most treasured record,” Heise said. “It’s really amazing because you can start visualizing these individuals once you start reading them.”

Records are extremely sparse because not only were local governments in Ohio not required to keep such records, there was no consensus or consistency in how they were kept.

“This is a file from the clerk of the court. Sometimes you can find them with the justice of the peace. Sometimes they were found in the probate records, and sometimes they were thrown in a basement and they didn’t exist anymore,” Heise said. “We feel very fortunate in Greene County to have them.”

Although digitization has grown in importance in the field, the documents produced today are still transformed into microfilm. Microfilm remains the standard because it requires few other tools and is still accessible to the naked eye.

“With microfilm, you can open it up, take a magnifying glass and read what’s on the film, unlike digital where you need something else, a phone or a computer,” said Melissa Dalton, Outreach Coordinator.

With the increased implementation of digital tools, archivists hope that these documents will be more accessible to the public.

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