The San Joaquin County History Museum is a treasure chest of records, pictures and artifacts from the 19th and 20th centuries. Some items are in good condition, but some precious records — especially concerning Delta water rights — are in danger.
"They're fragile, and if a lot of people use these, they will crumble," county archivist Leigh Johnsen said.
Some of the water records go back to the 1850s, when Delta property was known as "swamp land," Johnsen said. Other records that need protection are assessor's "plat books" — measuring 2 feet long and 2 feet wide — that show parcels, who owned them, their size, plus rivers, creeks and the names of small districts between 1876-1919.
"I just get concerned because they're falling apart," Johnsen said.
The obvious answer, he said, is to get these records online, specifically the San Joaquin County Historical Society's website. But San Joaquin County lacks money for the most basic of services, so Johnsen is seeking donations from the community.
At the county museum at Micke Grove Park, Johnsen says there is a lot of interest in 19th-century water rights in the Delta.
"I've hosted an army of consultants from Sacramento and personnel from various state agencies," Johnsen said. "I've helped local surveyors and engineering firms, private individuals and — with greater frequency — lawyers based in San Joaquin County. "All of them want access to the same material — reclamation district records dating from the 1850s; assessor's plat books created between 1876 and 1919 and one-of-a-kind historical maps that focus on the Delta."
Johnsen is still seeking a cost estimate for the work, but he knows it will cost a lot more than the $100 the historical society has raised thus far.
"Even if we don't get all the money right away, we can do it in stages with the most important ones first," he said.
Those interested in studying historical information at the county museum may set up an appointment with Johnsen or museum director Dave Stuart at 331-2055.
Anyone who wants to donate money to preserve the archives may call Johnsen or Stuart. Johnsen may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leigh Johnsen at a glancePosition: Archivist/librarian, San Joaquin County Historical Museum. Works half time. Employed in county almost two years.
Previous positions: Archivist at University of the Pacific and University of California, Davis. For 10 years, he edited letters and diaries of Salmon Chase, Abraham Lincoln's treasury secretary, Ohio governor, U.S. senator and chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Source: Leigh Johnsen
Other historical societies need to archiveThe San Joaquin County Historical Society isn't the only local organization that needs help archiving its materials.
For example, the Lodi Historical Society has photographs, older newspapers and letters that need archiving.
"We are looking into it," said Janice Roth, a Lodi Historical Society board member. "It means we need to get a computer, a scanner and a program."
The Lodi Historical Society raises money through membership dues and ice cream socials. They recently had a garage sale, Roth added.
"We don't have a paid staff," Roth said. "We're volunteers."
In Galt, the local historical society has been able to preserve its materials. All its photos have been transferred to compact discs, and they're housed in a bank safety deposit box, said longtime member Genie Olson.
Old newspapers are rolled up in tubes that are sealed on both ends so that heat and light won't age them.
"That's the best we can do because we can't afford to do anything else," Olson said.
As for letters and historical Galt documents, copies have been made, and the originals are in archival boxes. The public has no access to the original copies, Olson said.