Oconto County Veterans’ records to be digitized

Questions raised about the fate of original paper documents
Warren Bluhm
Oconto County Times Herald Editor

OCONTO — A Wausau firm has been hired to digitize hundreds of thousands of Oconto County veterans’ records dating back more than a century.

The County Board voted 29-1 Thursday to approve a contract with Q Solutions to scan about 9,900 folders containing an estimated 385,000 paper documents of county veterans who served as far back as the Spanish-American War and World War I.

“The purpose of this is to preserve the historical value, properly secure and safeguard the records and improve the efficiency in our office,” Veterans Service Officer Ron Christensen told the board.

Most of the work Christensen’s office does with veterans now happens on computer screens, he said.

“We haven’t created a paper file in our office since a month after I started, so about three years ago. Everything’s in the cloud,” Christensen said.

Q Solutions would start work in March, with completion expected by June. The digital files would be stored in two places, at the courthouse and one on a company server.

The plan as forwarded by the county Finance/Insurance Committee would be for Q Solutions to shred most of the documents. The paper copy of each veteran’s official discharge document, known as the DD214, would be returned to the county if it’s in the file.

That part of the project drew sharp opposition from several supervisors. David Behrend said the county ought to find someone who can be a caretaker of the original documents.

“Being that I am an archivist, and I think of 1850 as being yesterday, it would strongly advisable to find a group that wants them and decide what can be released as far as private information. But a lot of that stuff goes 90 years out and then becomes public record,” Behrend said. “When you’re looking for factual information, a digital record really doesn’t count because anybody can change it.”

The State Historical Society had a case about 10 years ago when a Medal of Honor recipient came looking for an original document and it had been shredded, leading to a legal battle, Behrend said.

“Once you get rid of it, it’ll never come back,” he said.

Christensen said his office doesn’t have the resources to go out and find veterans to see if they want to have the records.

“If we have a fire here or something, they’re lost forever,” Christensen said. “I think the proper way to secure them and preserve them is not to leave them on paper.”

Supervisor Diane Nichols, who is a historian, cautioned against destroying paper records without consulting the State Historical Society.

“As I understand it, any public record on a county level before it’s destroyed needs to be offered to the historical society,” Nichols said. “If they say you can shred it, then you can, but I think they need to be contacted.”

Supervisor Rose Stellmacher suggested putting a notice in newspapers so that veterans’ families are aware that the information will be shredded, and if they’re interested in having them, they can come to the Veterans Service Office.

“That’s a great idea,” Christensen said.

The contract requires Q Solutions to “store records in a secure area until receiving approval from Oconto County to destroy by shredding,” according to the resolution.