Everything old is new again in San Joaquin County now that formerly aging and moldy county documents have been refurbished and have found their new home at the San Joaquin County Historical Society and Museum.

At the Nov. 29 Board of Supervisors meeting, Assessor-Recorder-County Clerk Steve Bestolarides gave an update on the county’s progress of preserving archival images, books and maps in the museum.

So far, the county has seen more than 300 volumes of documents and 17,000 maps assessed and refurbished with the help of Kofile, a national company that specializes in preservation.

In August 2021, the Board of Supervisors passed a plan to bolster preservation and chose Kofile to assist with that goal for approximately $1.48 million.

The project covers mending, page encapsulation, book binding, paper de-acidification and protection, scanning and archival microfilming of an estimated 172,000 pages of historical records dating back to the 1850s.

“The preservation of these documents goes along with the history of our county’s businesses, our families,” said Supervisor Robert Rickman. “This will preserve these records for our future generations to see what this county is all about and the great stories that we have here.”

Freeze-dried history

With other clients, Kofile has taken care of either assessor-recorder-clerk records or board of supervisors’ records. But in San Joaquin County, the company got to do both.

“It’s a unique project in itself,” said Kofile account executive Eugene Sisneros, adding that they appreciate the opportunity to combine their strengths on this project.

During the Board of Supervisors meeting, Sisneros shared details of the company’s work in San Joaquin County since last August. Weathered and moldy documents went through an interesting process. Wearing masks and gloves, the team inventoried the collection and then freeze-dried the documents for 30 days to remove any mold and clean the pages.

“I think it’s very important that when we discover documents and books like this, there’s untold stories of the people and the companies and how this county grew and evolved to what it is today.”

Eugene Sisneros, Kofile CEO

After that came the actual preservation. The documents were put in specially-designed binders, protecting them from exposure to fire, water, humidity and other hazardous conditions, which will help them last up to 500 years.

After preservation, the documents will double in size due to the rebinding, thus requiring more storage space. The museum planned to construct a 200,000-square-foot building that could potentially house the original documents in the future, according to project details announced last year.

For now, about 17,461 maps have been repacked and rehoused in a special shelving unit at the museum. This storage shelving is smaller and lighter, allowing for it to be more easily moved to climate-controlled environments during emergencies.

A document from the 1900 U.S. Census shows San Joaquin County’s growing population, which stood at 34,452. Stockton was the county’s only incorporated city, and the second largest in the San Joaquin Valley behind Sacramento. (Image courtesy of San Joaquin County Historical Society and Museum/Facebook)

Buried treasures

Through its restoration work, Kofile unearthed some buried things in San Joaquin’s history. The company handled a large number of assessment roll books dating back to the 1860s, which included information of property owners. Many of the roll books in the county had segregated tabs for Chinese owners beside the traditional A to Z tabs. Kofile had rarely seen something like that in the other work that they have done elsewhere, Cisneros said.

“I think it’s very important that when we discover documents and books like this, there’s untold stories of the people and the companies and how this county grew and evolved to what it is today,” Cisneros said. “And discovering this and engaging into the community and educating them is a goal that we want to have.”

For the next six months, the Assessor-Recorder-County Clerk’s Office and Kofile will be working on indexing the digital versions of the records and making a searching mechanism. When finished, residents can easily find these archives on the office’s website. They will be able to download and save a particular document for about $2.