MORRIS – The ability to look into the past with ease has become a reality at the Grundy County Coroner's office with the installation of a computer and digitized records dating back to the 1800s.
Chad Hrechko sat at the computer last week to see what was in some of the files when he stumbled across a familiar name: Mike Hrechko, his father.
"My dad was the part-time police chief in the 1970s in Minooka," said Hrechko, who is a Grundy County Sheriff's Deputy. "There was a report from an accident that took place at Ridge Road and Mondamin in 1978 and his name was on there. It was neat to see."
Hrechko said he was only 4 months old when his dad typed the report using the station's typewriter, and he said it was fascinating to think about that.
Hrechko spoke to his dad who remembered the accident, 37 years later.
Grundy County Coroner John Callahan said his office received Death Certificate Surcharge grant money from the state to digitize records from 1859 to 2004.
"The main reason we did this is for the preservation of the old records," Callahan said. "Some of the records from the 1800s were so brittle they would break when you tried to open them."
Callahan said it takes professionals to be able to scan the documents while ensuring the papers don't fall apart. SBS Group of Indiana was hired in February to scan the documents at a cost of $9,000, which Callahan said was not paid for with any tax dollars.
The computer is set up on a small desk in the coroner's office at the Grundy County Administration Building, 1320 Union St. in Morris.
Those wishing to search records will need to come to the office and give the name and estimated year of the record so they can look through the documents that have been scanned.
One folder on the computer's desktop holds the scanned copies of reports sorted by year, where each folder has the person's name.
Inside the folder with the deceased person's name are any documents filed with the coroner's office, including transcripts of coroner inquests stating the cause of death.
Callahan said Grundy County averages 380 deaths a year, and 60 to 80 of those deaths have an actual death investigation by the coroner's office.
There are far fewer files from the earlier years, and those are filled with car accidents, farm accidents and suicides. One case from the 1970s is a record of an unidentified black woman who was found unclothed and shot in Erienna Township. The file includes a newspaper article talking about her burial and appeared to remain unsolved.
Another folder on the desktop includes folders from the 1940s through 2004 with names of the deceased, which include photographs from the investigation.
Deputy Coroner Karen Connor said people requesting the files will be guided to the folder with the documents and should be warned that many of the photographs are graphic, and could be offensive to family members or those viewing the records.
The files filled 50 boxes and were photographed as the boxes were picked up by SBS so chain of custody could be documented.
Connor said people have always come to the office to seek records, typically when they are working on their family history. Others come because they want clarity as to what happened to a loved one.
"Some were told stories by other family members, but they don't know for sure what happened," she said. "They want clarity, and this provides it."
Hrechko said he thinks the files will be used by people who have an interest in local history and it's nice that family members can sit and research the documents.
IF YOU GO
What: Grundy County Coroner digital death records
When: Office hours are 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday
Where: 1320 Union St., Morris