Old Luzerne County marriage licenses to be digitized for online viewing

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - jandes@timesleader.com
Hoggarth -

Decades of old Luzerne County marriage license applications will be digitized and loaded into an online database next year so they can be viewed for free, according to county Judicial Services and Records Division Head Joan Hoggarth.

The project will cover applications from Oct. 1, 1885, through Aug. 13, 2004, she said.

The public will have unlimited access to search and view the images — a feature important to the administration, she said. A fee would only apply if viewers want to print a document at $1.50 per page.

According to Hoggarth:

Marriage license applications can reveal interesting details about ancestors and missing links in genealogy research, which has become increasingly popular.

She randomly extracted an application from 1953. It contained the applicants’ ages, occupations, birthplaces and also the names, residences, occupations and birthplaces of their parents.

Applicants also had to indicate if they had any transmissible disease or if they were an “imbecile,” had epilepsy or were “of unsound mind.”

More recent applications added information about the education of both the applicants and their parents.

In some cases, parents had to sign consent because the brides and grooms were underage.

“You can find neat stuff that you never realized about your own family,” she said.

The project involves 286,000 records because there are 286 license application books, each containing approximately 1,000 pages.

No county general fund operating budget contribution is required. The project will be funded by the register of wills automation account, which comes from a $10 fee on all new estates opened on behalf of the deceased.

The cost will depend on the current quality and format of the records.

Microfilm is the cheapest to digitize, costing about $0.15 per page. Of the 286 books, 156 are microfilmed, but it is unclear if all this film is crisp and intact enough for digitizing.

Another 88 books were bound in the past, requiring extra work to separate glued pages, increasing the digitization cost to around $1.55 per image, she said.

The 42 remaining books contain loose pages that can be digitized for approximately $0.20 per image.

If these forecasts don’t change, the project will cost around $168,000.

The work was bid out, and a contract is pending. The target completion is the end of 2018.

In addition to providing a public service, the project will create a backup copy of the 130 books that were never microfilmed and free up space in the register of wills office now consumed by books. The deeds and wills offices are in the courthouse annex on River Street in Wilkes-Barre.

Also in 2018, Hoggarth’s division plans to digitize and post deed index records to allow the public to search online deeds by name.

The county had paid Info Quick Solutions, of Liverpool, N.Y., $192,155 in 2016 to digitize and create a free online database of Recorder of Deeds records from 1967 dating back to the county’s formation in 1786.

Without the planned index enhancement, title searchers and property owners researching these older deeds must know the deed book and page number to find records.

The database creation and upcoming index work are covered by a deeds archive fund, which comes from a $3 fee on most office recordings. The index project involves 80 books and will cost around $115,000.

The only fee for the deed records is $1.50 to print each page. These records may be accessed through an “IQS E Film Reader” at www.luzernecounty.org under judicial services and records using the document search link.


By Jennifer Learn-Andes