Genealogy and more: How Syscon’s PROMIS helps Geneva County keep its promise to the public
It’s a typical Wednesday morning at Alabama’s Geneva County Probate Office.
Two elderly sisters are happily researching birth, death and marriage records, finding new names to fill extended branches of their family tree. Although the sisters don’t consider themselves computer savvy, each works independently on the office’s public computers after a very brief tutorial from the office staff.
A local forester occupies the third public computer, searching for timber access by owners’ names. At the fourth computer a grandchild seeks details of a recently-probated family will.
Meanwhile, attorneys from across the state are also viewing Geneva’s records from their offices, taking advantage of their subscriptions to the County’s remote access service.
Thanks to Syscon’s PROMIS (Public Records Optical Management Information System), Geneva County Chief Clerk Gina Holmes and other probate court staffers in Judge Fred Hamic’s office can simultaneously offer access to public records while also attending to the needs of the court.
“While someone is coming in to look at court cases or marriage records, I’m able to work at my desk, using the same software to record the new court cases,” said Holmes. “I scan in every document the attorneys provide. Since we’re required by auditors to keep those paper files after scanning, I might store 100 or more pieces of paper for each case in the vault.
“But once I turn those papers into electronic records, it’s likely we will never have to access those paper files again. For the months we’re working on a particular case, I work straight at my desk, rather than having to pull files from a vault.”
That means Syscon’s PROMIS system serves the County’s citizens in multiple ways, Holmes said. In addition to cost-saving efficiencies that maximize this chief clerk’s time, the County can save tax dollars that otherwise would be spent on clerks serving as legal librarians.
“We don’t have enough clerks to search County records for everyone who comes in to seek information. For example, we have people doing genealogical research here every day. So if we didn’t have this system, we’d have to do the searching for them. That would mean we’d have to hire more clerks.”
Holmes credits the simplicity of PROMIS as being the key to public access. She said not all such software programs are created equal.
“The older records are not recorded in Syscon’s PROMIS. The other software is a much more complicated system, and we have to help people look those up. But with Syscon’s software, someone searching for a name change or anything that’s part of the public record only has to type in a couple of letters, and PROMIS does the work for them.”
Geneva County residents are not only careful with tax dollars. They are also careful with documents. This south Alabama County is prone to major flooding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency last helped area residents recover from devastating loss in 2009. Digital preservation is therefore a critical court need.
“Syscon backs up our records in a remote location, which is a big plus for us, too.”
Not all probate records are open. Syscon staffers adapted Geneva County’s system to allow secure recording and retrieval of non-public records, including adoptions and mental health commitments. Holmes said such customization – and easy access to Syscon staff – simplifies what could otherwise be complicated processes.
“The Syscon guys are wonderful. I don’t even look at them as vendors, but as friends. You don’t have any problems with their software. If something isn’t working right, it’s because we’ve entered something wrong. And when we do that, they’re so easy to work with. It takes them about five minutes to fix any problems we make.”
When asked what advice Holmes would give another court considering Syscon services, she said her answer was easy.
“I would tell them not to just consider it, but to go with it. We haven’t implemented new Syscon options, just because we’re a small county, with limited funds. But I would easily give Syscon a ten-out-of-ten rating for their software and their service. I highly recommend them.”
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