Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Richland County Sheriff arrest records: 1959-1963


One of the projects we finished at the library just before the pandemic shut us down was digitizing and transcribing two Richland County Sheriff arrest ledgers from 1959-1963.  We found the ledgers as part our efforts to locate historic county records to process and make available online. 

Researchers are often looking for arrest records, but generally when we call for assistance from government offices we get little satisfaction. These ledgers explained some of the problem.  Most of the time when a researcher is looking for an historic arrest record, they are generally vague about the arrest details and are not even sure if an arrest occurred.  It is usually a family story or a perhaps a grandparent, aunt or uncle briefly mentioned the event offering few details.  However, in the case of these ledgers, if you don’t know that an arrest occurred and when it occurred you will have to go through several ledgers to find the relevant arrest because they are organized first by date and then by last name.  Also, these ledgers are just a list of arrests. While there is an arrest number that may lead to more information, no one knows where those records are kept in Richland County! Of course, the digitizing and transcribing now makes these records keyword searchable, so the date does not impede the search.  However, this level of access to local records is still rare for genealogists and the records are difficult for librarians to locate and make available.

I’ve been thinking about these ledgers a lot lately. Since I last posted in the dead librarian blog the pandemic sped up my retirement plans.  After 6 months at home, I knew I wasn’t going back to the 9-5 gig.  But I am still working these days, just with private clients instead of the public.  My clients now are mostly authors writing books.  They often ask me to determine if any arrest records exist from the 1920's-1970's for the subjects of their book. Even if I find the right agency that holds the records very few bureaucrats are willing to conduct the level of research needed for finding local government records and I understand why after working on the Richland County Sheriff arrest ledgers.  Local government employees would have to search year by year and without more details from the researcher it is a needle in a haystack. The other problem, of course, is that few government employees know if the records even exist. Deep knowledge of these historic local government records is non-existent.  

It is eye opening to see how inaccessible these public government records are to the general public. In the case of the Richland County Sheriff records there is certainly a lot of information for individual family researchers but these ledgers also contained a list of arrests made during the historic 1961 Edwards Civil Rights March at the State House. There's a lot of history that we have lost or maybe its' just misplaced.

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