Minnesota to digitize old adoption records

Published 10:23 am Monday, January 14, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota plans to make it easier for people researching their family histories to access old adoption information by digitizing roughly 5 million pages worth of records, including some that date to the late 19th century.

The records are stored on about 2,000 rolls of microfilm at the Department of Human Services. The agency put the job of digitizing the records out for bid last month, saying it shouldn’t cost more than $67,500, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Monday (http://bit.ly/SxY4OU ).

While the microfilms contain about 5 million pages worth of records, each record varies in size from a few pages to several hundred pages. So, the rolls likely have information on thousands of adoptions, although officials haven’t estimated an exact total.

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“Anecdotally, we are aware there are some adoption records from the 1890s through today,” department spokeswoman Beth Voigt told the newspaper in an email. “Each roll of microfilm may contain 200 case records or more.”

The records will be better protected in a digital format and more easily accessed, Voigt said.

Sandy Thalmann, a genealogist in Rochester who uses adoption records in her research, said the digitization of the records will precede by a few years the 100-year anniversary of a state law that prompted a predecessor organization to the Department of Human Services to start systematically collecting adoption records.

Once the anniversary arrives in 2017, Thalmann said, the department’s records will become an even more important resource for genealogists because they will be comprehensive. Adoption records in Minnesota become public after 100 years.

“It’s important that you know where you came from,” said Thalmann, who specializes in researching family histories that include adoptions. “And even descendants of adoptees find it important to learn where their ancestors came from. … As medicine improves and family histories become an important part of medical treatment, that’s one practical application of it.”

While demand for the department’s adoption records may rise in 2017, Voigt said that was not the impetus for digitizing the records. She said the primary reason is that the department’s microfilm reader is quickly becoming obsolete, and therefore difficult to operate and maintain.

Even so, digitizing the records should help the department to satisfy growing public demand for them, Voigt said.

“Ease in accessing the documents will be a vital part of meeting that ongoing need now, in 2017 and beyond,” she said.