Thanks to Archivist Laura Palma-Blandford for this one!
One of the great things about working at the State Archives is there’s always something to surprise and befuddle you. We received several Cochise County Justice Court dockets from the Tombstone Courthouse State Park. I was reviewing one of the dockets to determine its dates when I found an usual case titled “Town of Mineville, Rhiolite County, Arizona vs. Manuel Hernandez and confederates”. Mineville? Rhiolite County? Had I uncovered a previous unknown location in Arizona?
If the weird location wasn’t enough, a quick analysis revealed other signs that someone created a fake case. The previous pages in the docket book are clean and in good shape. Our conservator concluded that the person had rubbed dirt on the pages to possibly make them look “historical”. Also, docket books generally do not include verbatim testimony and clerks refrained from using exclamation points. The legitimate records date from 1901 but the fake case claimed Rhiolite County was in the State of Arizona suggesting that this was done after 1912.
Instances like these are one of the reasons why government archives are adamant about maintaining chain of custody on records being transferred from the creating agency to the archive. The Arizona State Archives needs to be able to verify that records haven’t left government custody and been altered. Since the chain of custody was broken and the docket book altered, the entire record has been compromised and a court of law could refuse to take it as evidence.
I do not think this was done with malicious intent but I think it serves as a good reminder of why records should be recognized as having enduring value, even the mundane ones from 1901.