A couple of weeks ago, Chief Records Officer for the Unified Court System Geof Huth brought a team of archivists from the New York State Archives to the dark, cluttered, winding top floor of an eight-story building in Lower Manhattan to organize and package more than 1 million New York state court documents from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
"This is the messiest and the dirtiest part of my job," Huth said Thursday, "but that's because I don't usually deal with records that are hundreds of years old."
Huth and his team have already begun transporting many of these dusty, musty ("I don't think musty," Huth said. "There is some dust.") mouse-chewed records -- many printed on stretched animal skin -- to the state capitol, "which has one of the best state-of-the-art facilities for the storage of paper records," Huth said.
In 1911, the old home of these documents -- once called The Hall of Records and never lit by any gas lamp -- represented a cutting-edge paper-preservation facility.
"That's why the filing equipment can close and be locked for security and fire protection," Huth said.
But more than a century later, these tattered, often hand-printed piles of paper and parchment sit in stacks and inside drawers and atop high shelves, not as accessible as those who oversee the 200 million and counting documents preserved in the New York State Archives would prefer.
Historians and archivists view the collection as a whole as the treasure, but among these 1,500 cubic feet of records headed to Albany exist some individual jewels, like affidavits from Eliza and Aaron Burr's divorce case.
"She was a little upset with him," Huth said, "and claimed infidelity. Also, he was spending all of her money."
All of the documents headed to Albany in some way or another pertain to people arguing about money. Court officers printed most of these squabbles on odd-sized pieces of paper or parchment, making it difficult for those like Huth and his team spending weeks packaging these pieces of history, to find containers to safely and smartly ship them.
"Some of them are feet long," Huth said. "Some of them are very small. And so we've had to come up with new solutions other people haven't had to before."
(AP/FOX 5 NEWS) — New York's court system is presenting the New York State Archives with a wealth of historical records, including documents related to Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr.
The collection includes nearly 2,000 boxes and bound volumes of court records on paper and parchment. Many date back to colonial times. A freedom-of-the-press case from the 1730s, called "The King v. John Peter Zenger," influenced early American political thought on the law of libel and the powers of juries.
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and State Archivist Thomas Ruller made the announcement Thursday.
"These historic court documents are a state and national treasure, providing invaluable insight into New York's rich legal, social and cultural history over the course of three centuries," Chief Judge DiFiore said in a statement. "I am so pleased that these vintage records will now be part of the voluminous collection of the New York State Archives, which is dedicated to organizing and preserving the state's historical records, and where these prized court documents will be readily accessible to researchers, scholars, teachers and the general public."
The documents have been stored in the Hall of Records in lower Manhattan and will be transferred to the archives in Albany next week.
The archives maintains a public research room open Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.