Hancock County Courthouse fire endangers records

The Hancock County Courthouse in Sparta was severely damaged by fire Aug. 11, leaving the building in ruins and records dating back to 1793 in jeopardy, if they survived at all.

As this was written, work was underway to stabilize the remaining portions of the building, but no assessment had been made by qualified archivists to determine the condition of the records, whether any could be salvaged, and what was lost.

Hancock County is home to the roots of many important Georgia families, President Jimmy Carter’s Gordy ancestors, and African-Americans who have been the subject of recent books, including Amanda America Dickson and those written about in “Ambiguous Lives.”

The records there cover people of all social levels, and whatever was destroyed will be a huge loss. While microfilming efforts by the Mormons and the state can be viewed at the Georgia Archives and other libraries, the publicly available microfilm only covers the major sources to a certain point — deeds to 1904, marriages to 1901, wills to 1909 — leaving more than 100 years of records in limbo.

The Heritage Emergency Response Alliance is working with local officials, and their website at heraatlanta.wordpress.com has updates and photographs.

What can you do to prevent such a disaster at your own county courthouse? One way would be to check how historical courthouse records are being cared for. Are the vaults closed at night? Are the records stacked on the floor? Let your county commissioners know how you feel. Records are difficult, if not impossible, to replace — and, if lost, your heritage is gone forever.

Digital Public Library of America

Carol Waggoner-Angleton of Georgia Regents University in Augusta will speak about getting to know the Digital Public Library of America at the Georgia Archives Lunch and Learn lecture Sept. 12.

It’s at noon and is free; bring your own lunch. For information on future lectures, call 678-364-3710 or check georgiaarchives.org. More about the digital library can be found at dp.la.

Fall genealogy calendar

Sept. 20: National Archives, on Tennessee Valley Authority impact; Oct. 4: Georgia Genealogical Society in Newnan presents George Morgan on “Beyond the Basics”; Oct. 25: Georgia Archives and Genealogy Day at the Georgia Archives; Dec. 6: Georgia Genealogical Society presents Erick Montgomery on Woodrow Wilson’s genealogy.

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Contact Kenneth H. Thomas Jr. at P.O. Box 901, Decatur, GA 30031 or gagensociety.org.