As it awaits another milestone, the staff at the Lake County recorder of deeds office wants to ensure it will be recognized with a hands-on celebration.
Electronic filing, which accounts for nearly a third of the records received, will be disabled temporarily Thursday until after the bearer of the 7 millionth document to be recorded since 1844 has conducted his or her business.
"We'll turn that program off. We want a live person," said Mary Ellen Vanderventer, who took office in 1996 and was elected to a fifth term last November.
A basket of patriotic gifts awaits that visitor, expected sometime Thursday morning.
"Of course, we'll waive the fee," Vanderventer said. "We just want to make it fun and hopefully we won't scare the heck out of whoever walks in."
The volume of information and time spanned in those 7 million documents is a source of pride for Vanderventer, who has personally overseen the recording of 3 million of them.
"It really is amazing," she said. She estimated that 90 percent are related to land transactions of some kind, such as a deed or mortgage.
Some people can have dozens of documents attached to their name in a permanent, public file. And yes, all the original paper filings still exist, stored away from the sixth floor offices in downtown Waukegan.
"Every single thing. Every document back to 1844 is on the computer. We've scanned them and indexed them. But we also felt an obligation to keep the old records," said Vanderventer, who oversees a staff of 27 and an annual budget of about $11 million. The computer records are backed up at an out-of-state location.
It took 114 years to record the first million documents, 21 more years to reach 2 million and then another 12 years to get to 3 million. Since that mark in 1991, the pace has quickened as Lake County has grown.
But the numbers also reflect other trends. Foreclosure filings have become the second most filed document, according to Vanderventer. The number of foreclosures has risen from 2,114 in 2003 to 9,379 -- boosting the monthly average during that time from 176 to 782.
"That's in the hundreds every single month," Vanderventer said. "That's very sad. Those are the hard ones to watch."
The housing market collapse in 2009 resulted in six layoffs at the recorder's office and 2011 marked the lowest number of recordings (116,012) since 1990. The trend began to shift in early 2012 and consumers slowly are regaining confidence in the market, she said.
Military discharge papers and uniform commercial code filings, which represents a loan on an asset other than a home, round out the more prevalent documents. Someone occasionally will record marriage vows or a report card, she added.
Vanderventer said the biggest change during her tenure has been the emergence of electronic filings. Three state-approved companies electronically submit only records that don't require a signature, such as a bank's release of a mortgage.
Meanwhile, the office is scheduled to move temporarily on June 21, as renovations at the Lake County government center continue.
"But we'll have a kiosk in the lobby and the public will feel no pain," she said.