PEKIN — Soon, people searching for documents in the Tazewell County Recorder of Deeds' office will be able to look back online nearly four decades.

The office recently signed a contract with US Imaging of Saginaw, Mich., to compete the digitization of another 10 years worth of records, going back to 1981, by the start of December.

Right now, the office has records dating to 1991 available online.

"A lot of our (title) searchers like to go back to the 1970s or '80s," said Lisa Dunnigan, the lead clerk in the recorder's office.

It's something "customers have been asking for," said County Clerk John Ackerman, who oversees the office.

Searchers from lawyers' offices and from title companies are the primary users of the data, and check it during the course of property sales and purchases to verify the chain of ownership on parcels.

Rather than sending people to the recorder's office, they're able to sign up for paid access to the documents online and conduct searches from their offices, saving time and mileage for employees.

The cost of $75,570 for digitizing the latest batch of documents doesn't come from general tax funds. Rather, it's paid from an automation fund that people pay into when they record documents in the office — meaning the changes are supported by users of the office.

Peoria County went through a similar, albeit more extensive, digitization of records earlier this decade, taking users back before the turn of the 20th century. Ackerman said his office will explore costs to get more records online as cash becomes available in the fund.

Tazewell's office will also be introducing new, synthetic paper that is less prone to tearing or smearing.

"They'll last for years and years," print shop supervisor Gayle Williams said of the new documents.

The paper, similar to what's used in some restaurant menus, will be used, for instance, on plat maps that people review over and over, Ackerman said. Those are routinely folded and re-opened.