Bergen County is rich with history, and now that history is more accessible than ever before. Thanks to the tireless work of Bergen County Clerk John Hogan and his team, millions of pages of historic land records dating back to the 1800s are now available online.
A Decade-Long Effort: Digitizing Bergen County's Land Records
John Hogan first thought of digitizing the land records more than 10 years ago. He saw the benefits of digitalization while visiting Rockland County's clerk's office, and he wanted the same efficiency for Bergen County.
The project was massive and labor-intensive. It took years to scan over 26 million pages of records in-house, instead of spending upwards of $4 million to outsource the task. Hogan and his team scanned 9,500 deed books from 1891 to 2009 and more than 17,000 mortgage books from 1896 to 2009.
Making Land Record Searching Efficient and Streamlined
The goal of the project was to make land record searching more efficient and streamlined for the public. With all Bergen County land records from 1970 to the present already available online, residents can now easily access historic land records from the comfort of their own homes. The older books, dating to the late 1800s, took a few days to scan because they needed to be handled differently. But the newer document books could be scanned in just a few hours. The land record and management online system also needed to be updated to be more user-friendly, and a large, high-speed, specialized scanner was purchased to help expedite the process and fit the size of the books.
A Historic Treasure Trove at Your Fingertips
Bergen County's index and deeds date as far back as 1714, offering a wealth of historical information for curious residents. Using the records is a task mostly done by real estate agents, title companies, property owners or future property owners, and sometimes construction companies. But with the records now available online, anyone can access this treasure trove of history.
A Secure and Cost-Effective Solution
Hogan and his team carried out the project in a secure manner with current employees, at a fraction of the cost with no overtime. Outside companies were considered, but Hogan said he didn't like the idea of the books leaving the building. Another company said it would bring a truck and scan the documents on-site, but the cost would be 15 cents a page.
Delays and Challenges: Overcoming Obstacles to Digitize Bergen County's Land Records
The project was not without its challenges. Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and the COVID-19 pandemic caused delays in scanning and redactions, which were also slowed by a new law. In 2020, Gov. Phil Murphy signed Daniel's Law, which protects personal information, such as the home address or phone numbers, of active or retired judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers and their immediate family members. Hogan's team had to go back through the records and redact pages that were already in the system due to the law. But despite these obstacles, the team persevered and is now nearing the finish line.
Bergen County's Digital Document Room: A New Era of Efficiency
The document room, also known as "The Vault," is home to millions of pages of historic land records. It was once filled with 50 to 100 people at any given time before the records were available online. But now, anyone can access these records from their computer or mobile device.
If the ease of document access makes anyone unsettled, in 2021 a property alert system was put in place, letting residents register so they know when someone searches for documents related to their address. It's a free service that can be obtained through the clerk's office.
Although the physical books must be kept by the county indefinitely, they are now scanned and digitized, allowing for more possibilities for the space in the future. The physical books are stored in temperature-controlled and fire-protected rooms. After scanning, some bookshelves have already been rearranged to bring in more office space. The county historian's offices are now back in that space, and the county mailroom is using some of the space in the rear.
Uncovering Bergen County's Past
The digitization of Bergen County's historic land records is a massive achievement that will benefit the community for generations to come. Thanks to Hogan and his team, residents can now easily access a treasure trove of history and explore the county's past from the comfort of their own homes. The project was not without its challenges, but the team persevered, and the result is a new era of efficiency for the document room, and a new way to uncover Bergen County's rich history.
Hogan assures residents that a property alert system was put in place in 2021, allowing residents to register so they know when someone searches for documents related to their address. It's a free service that can be obtained through the clerk's office, providing an extra layer of security and peace of mind.
Preserving Bergen County's History for Generations to Come
With the bulk of the documents dating back to the 1890s, Bergen County's digitalized land records offer a fascinating glimpse into the county's rich history. The physical books must be kept by the county indefinitely, but with the records now scanned and digitized, they will most likely remain where they are for now.
The project has been a monumental undertaking, but Hogan and his team have successfully completed it. The digitization of Bergen County's historic land records ensures that this vital piece of local history is preserved and accessible for generations to come.
In conclusion, the digitization of Bergen County's land records is a significant achievement, making historic land records more accessible than ever before. The hard work and dedication of Bergen County Clerk John Hogan and his team have made this possible, and residents can now access millions of pages of historic land records with just a few clicks. With this vital piece of local history preserved and accessible, Bergen County residents can continue to explore their county's rich past and look forward to a more efficient and streamlined land record-searching process.