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Lake County ‘historical treasures’ sent to state depository

RebeccCook Beach Park Lake County Circuit Court Clerk Keith BrHighlPark look over naturalizatidocuments from 1800s which will be given Illinois

Rebecca Cook of Beach Park and Lake County Circuit Court Clerk Keith Brin of Highland Park look over naturalization documents from the 1800s which will be given to the Illinois State Archives for recording. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 26, 2013 6:23AM

A “treasure trove” of Lake County historical documents dating back to the 1840s was transferred to Illinois State Archives on Thursday.

Hundreds of U.S. naturalizations documents have been tucked in the county’s Clerk of the Circuit Court’s storage room. The handwritten documents have photos with original signatures of immigrants who underwent the process to become U.S. citizens.

“These are historical treasures. These (documents) are wonderful and in good condition,” said Court Clerk Keith Brin.

The records are still legally viable documents that can still be used in court to prove citizenship, according to Karl Moore, ISA Regional Archives Depositories supervisor. Moore and fellow ISA Illinois Regional Archives Depositories Supervisor Barbara Heflin picked up the historical documents Thursday.

ISA will catalogue the records and transfer them to microfilm. The process will take several months, Moore said. When they are finished, Lake County will get a copy of the microfilm.

“This will give us the opportunity to make these records widely available,” said Brin.

The Circuit Clerk’s Office has held onto these documents for more than a century. They sat in storage, collecting (minimal) dust until the circuit court’s staff was able to find the right agency to transfer the documents, Brin said.

The process started with his predecessor Sally Coffelt, the clerk of the court before Brin was elected in November. The clerk’s office unsuccessfully tried to get a hold of the federal government because naturalization is a federal process.

Brin’s office had estimates that it would cost about $30,000 to put the naturalization documents on microfilm to preserve them. Microfilm is considered the “gold standard” of document storage because it lasts for 500 years, Moore said.

Lake County’s documents are handwritten and some of the binders are falling apart.

“We’re not the people to handle fragile documents. My chief deputy found the contacts at Illinois State Archives,” said Brin.

ISA does not charge for putting the documents onto microfilm. The original documents will go to Illinois Regional Archives Depository System at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb as the final resting place once the microfilming process is complete, Heflin said.

“They are in remarkably good shape for their age,” said Heflin of Lake County’s documents. “Naturalization are my one of my favorite types of records. They are wonderful genealogical references. They can be invaluable to family researchers, especially the photos.”

County courts used to handle the naturalization process, Heflin said. The naturalization process includes a formal declaration of intent, a five-year residency requirement and then a certificate of citizenship. Many of these declarations and certificates are among the documents ISA took into custody.

Local courts were phased out of the naturalization process in the mid-1960s, after the federal government took over, Heflin said.

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