REGISTRATION documents dating back to the 19th century have been preserved in a digital archive for future Warrington generations, thanks to the completion of a council project.
Around 2,500 books containing the original birth, death and marriage certificates for Warrington residents, going back to 1837, have been digitised.
The new electronic archive will help ensure the irreplaceable books are protected against damage or loss, with registrars able to carry out historical searches for specific certificates or registrations electronically, without having to physically handle the binders, many of which are in a fragile state.
It was decided that the time was right to digitise the archives to preserve the records ahead of the relocation of the books, which were previously stored in the Register Office on Museum Street, to their new home – a high quality, secure strong room in the new council offices at Time Square.
The digitisation of so many registers is a painstaking process that involves individually imaging and scanning the registers and the entries within them into an electronic format. It requires specialist work, to minimise the risk of damage to the documents. The council commissioned Wakefield-based company, Microform Imaging – who have expertise in handling historical documents – to deliver the project.
The company has produced a high-resolution image of each individual register page/entry, which can be accessed for future certificate re-production. Registrar staff will now be able to easily access the electronic repository, in order to query and produce copy certificates, using secure, encrypted software which ensures the certificates cannot be accessed inappropriately.
Microform Imaging has also produced the scanned certificates in microfilm format, providing an additional failsafe backup for the Registers.
Warrington Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for transformation, Cllr Hitesh Patel, said: “Warrington’s birth, marriage and death certificates are effectively irreplaceable. They are an invaluable resource for people researching their families, or the town’s, past.
“It’s vital that we protect and preserve these fragile books for future generations, particularly with their relocation to the strong room at the new council offices.
“This digitisation project will achieve this, removing the need for registrars to handle the books to produce duplicate certificates, providing a faster, more efficient digital repository and enabling the records to remain safely in storage. It’s a great example of how we can use technology to preserve our heritage.”
Warrington residents and other customers regularly request copies of historic registration certificates. Previously, only certificates from 1991 onwards were held electronically.
This meant that when a certificate from earlier than 1991 was requested, the registrars would have to search the binders, before producing a hand-written copy of the requested certificate.
Typically, the re-production of a historic certificate – many of which are ornate and decorated with stylistic calligraphy – would take the registrar 25 minutes, in addition to the time taken to search through the binders for the required certificate.
The new electronic format will enable certificates to be printed off, eliminating the searching of the binders (and any damage that causes) and significantly reducing the time taken to produce a duplicate, historic certificate.
All electronic documents will be printed onto a watermarked General Register Office (GRO) certificate, allowing the customer to see the original entry, including, for example, the signature of their ancestors.
Registrar, Lucy Davis, is pictured welcoming Warrington’s records to their new home, a strong room in the new council offices at Time Square, following the completion of the digitisation project.