County readies records for Web

Michigan's Genesee County is leading the way in how to make birth, marriage,

death and other records available to citizens online, something that has

proved a stumbling block in many e-government plans.

In the past, if any of the county's 430,000 residents wanted to see any

of the items in the Register of Deeds or the Vital Records Office, they

had to go to one of the offices, have a microfiche of the item pulled by

an employee and then have the record copied from the microfiche. It was

time-consuming, and the final copy was often of poor quality.

Now, the records are scanned into the system as TIFF images and automatically

translated into HTML records that can be manipulated for transmission over

the Web. Currently, only an index of the records is searchable through the

Internet, but people can pinpoint the records they need from that and then

have them printed as high-resolution copies on laser printers.

The county expects to have an online ordering system in place by the end

of April and eventually enable people to pay for copies of records online.

"It's possible that we will also at some point be able to provide images

of death, marriage and other records online," said Rob Coffman, supervisor

of Vital Records and Elections for Genesee County. "But we'll have to have

more knowledge of how this system works, and much stronger security will

be needed."

One advantage of the system, which was provided by Bull Information Systems

Ltd., is that it frees up staff at the two agencies who otherwise would

have to handle the microfiche. Records are being scanned from "this point

forward," Coffman said, but beginning in the fall, staff members will start

scanning more than 3 million back records.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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