Greene County archivists find one of America’s oldest printed currencies in safe

Outreach Coordinator Melissa Dalton talks about the rows of movable cabinets packed with historical documents that make up the Greene County Archives. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

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Outreach Coordinator Melissa Dalton talks about the rows of movable cabinets packed with historical documents that make up the Greene County Archives. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Greene County caps off its History Week, displaying cool finds like 1860s money from the old Greenewood Manor nursing home

Recordkeepers say you never know what you’re going to find at the Greene County Archives.

After receiving nearly 400 boxes of records from Greenewood Manor, archivists discovered that the former nursing home was hiding some interesting historical finds, including one of the older styles of American printed currency, dating back 160 years.

Greenewood Manor closed its doors last year after nearly 200 years in operation, leaving the Archives department the 400 boxes and one massive Civil War-era safe.

Inside, they found two demand notes, one from 1862, and another from 1917. These early demand notes, called greenbacks, were first printed during the Civil War, and later discontinued in favor of the modern American dollar. The two specimens represent the first and last print run of greenbacks ever created in the United States.

“We have no idea if they were used as payment for something, if someone stumbled upon them and decided to put them in the safe. We don’t know their story, but it’s wild to think the Civil War was going on when this was printed,” said records manager Robin Heise.

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Records Manager Robin Heise points out some of the interesting finds in the Greene County Archives. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Records Manager Robin Heise points out some of the interesting finds in the Greene County Archives. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

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Records Manager Robin Heise points out some of the interesting finds in the Greene County Archives. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Many Ohio counties have independent historical societies, but only about 17 of Ohio’s 88 counties have Archives departments, according to Ohio History Connection. Montgomery, Warren, Butler, and Clinton counties also have Archives departments. Between 2,200 and 2,500 people access the Greene County Archives annually, searching for wills, estates, tax records, divorce decrees and maps. Many visitors are conducting genealogical research, tracing their family history through the county. More and more people have come to the Archives in the wake of the pandemic, Heise said.

Probate Court documents, which are typically the most useful for genealogical research, start in 1806 and run through the present. Over the last six months, Archives staff have been working to implement the online catalogue ArchivesSpace and the electronic record preservation system Preservica to make records more accessible online.

Black Americans face particular hurdles in studying their genealogy because of slavery. Very few records date back before the Civil War. However, Greene County has one of the few records that document the arrival of Black Americans in the region. A ledger called The Emancipation Record of Free Blacks is one of the rarest such documents in the state of Ohio.

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Greene County archivists found United States demand notes, or "Greenbacks," some of the earliest paper currency printed in the United States, in the records of Greenewood Manor after the retirement home closed last year. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Greene County archivists found United States demand notes, or "Greenbacks," some of the earliest paper currency printed in the United States, in the records of Greenewood Manor after the retirement home closed last year.  MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

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Greene County archivists found United States demand notes, or "Greenbacks," some of the earliest paper currency printed in the United States, in the records of Greenewood Manor after the retirement home closed last year. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

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Court records of formerly enslaved Black people who came to Greene County are vitally useful for current residents and visitors researching their family history. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Court records of formerly enslaved Black people who came to Greene County are vitally useful for current residents and visitors researching their family history. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

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Court records of formerly enslaved Black people who came to Greene County are vitally useful for current residents and visitors researching their family history. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Between the years of 1805 and 1845, people of color were required to have a white male resident and property owner testify in court on their behalf in order to settle in Greene County. They were also required to pay a bond of $50, which was later raised to $500 in order to become a county resident.

At first the records start out simple, with names of both the white sponsor and the Black petitioner, some of whom are as young as nine, and the date of their arrival. However, the records later include physical descriptions of the applicants, since there was no other form of identification at the time.

“This, in my mind, is our most valuable record,” Heise said. “It’s really amazing because you can start to visualize those individuals once you start to read through these.”

The documents are extremely rare because not only were Ohio’s local governments not required to keep such records, there was no consensus or consistency in how they were kept.

“This is a Clerk of Court record. Sometimes you can find them with the Justice of the Peace. Sometimes they were found in Probate records, and sometimes they were thrown in a basement and they don’t exist anymore” Heise said. “We feel very fortunate in Greene County that we have these.”

Though digitization has risen to prominence in the field, records being produced today are still made into microfilm. Microfilm remains the standard as it requires few other tools and is still accessible with the naked eye.

“With microfilm you can open it up, take a magnifying glass and read what’s on the film, as opposed to digital where you need something else, a phone or computer,” said outreach coordinator Melissa Dalton.

With the increased implementation of digital tools, archivists hope that these documents will be more accessible to the public.

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