You never forget the moments when you learn about your personal history. For Robin Robinson, she was a teenager riding in her mother’s car on the 405 in Los Angeles when she found out she was Jewish. Robinson’s mother had originally kept her heritage a secret to get into the Army during WWII. Her mother had decided not to tell her own family as well.
“I don’t think not telling us was the right thing,” said Robinson recently, standing in her office, filled with books and photographs, including one of each of her parents in Cairo. Robinson, who was elected the Recorder of Deeds for Bucks County in 2017, feels strongly about making things public.
“If we don’t share our history, we lose everything,” she said.
Robinson and her staff have pledged to restore 700 Bucks County deed books that were left rotting in a county warehouse. Dating back to 1684, some of the deeds include the names of emancipated slaves, mention William Penn, or were made from rags and the recycled uniforms of soldiers.
“I was just shocked how the department was run. There was lots of waste, lots of paper. I said, ‘Oh my God’, this is the history of our County?” Robinson said. “These books are now my responsibility. I can blame the people who came before me, but that’s not going to fix the problem.”
With $250,000 in county restoration funds, she started with the oldest records. The books were sent to a company in Vermont that painstakingly restored each page. The pages were hung on a clothesline to dry and then wrapped and bound. So far 90 of the books have been restored. Another 100 books were expected to be completed in early February.
By law, if a resident comes to the office, she has to produce his or her deed. “For example, someone will come in and say, I need to see book 38. We have to go to the warehouse and dig through and find it. Half are crumbling and moldy,” Robinson said.
Starting this summer, the restored books will be kept in an easily accessible, climate controlled storage room in the Bucks County Courthouse building. Records will also be on microfilm.
To finish the entirety of the project, the county office will need a total $2 million, Robinson said. The Office is applying for grants and is working with local preservation groups. This year, she and her staff will visit the Doylestown Historical Society, the American Association of University Women at Delaware Valley University, among others, to share the books with the public. The county office also launched an Adopt-a-Book campaign for individuals, local businesses and schools to contribute to the restoration starting from $10 and up. Contributors will receive either a certificate or their name in a deed book. So far, $12,000 has been raised from this program. A few contributions were even given as Christmas presents, Robinson said.
Bucks County is not alone in the problem of poorly stored deeds. “This is a national issue. This is a problem that extends everywhere,” she said.
Robinson worked in retail management, real estate and public service after going to college in San Diego and earning a communications degree. She moved to the area in 2000 with her husband and two children when her husband landed a job as a store manager at Bloomingdale’s in Willow Grove. He passed away in 2010. Robinson ran for the Recorder of Deeds in both 2005 and 2009 before making the cut in 2017 on the Democratic ticket.
She worked for 10 years as the executive assistant to Bucks County Commissioner Diane Marseglia before her latest run. “I felt the environment was right. I have the management and real estate background. I worked for a title company in Doylestown for five years. I knew the county,” she said.
Robinson remembers when she bought her condo in Warwick, she received a letter in the mail offering an original copy of her deed for $89.95. What she knew that many residents don’t is that when a citizen closes on a property, they receive the original deed. They don’t need to order another one. The letter had looked so good, “I could have fallen for it,” she said.
Robinson recently launched a fraud-prevention program where residents can sign up online. Anytime a document has been recorded in her office against their names, the recorder vendor, Landex, will send an email or text. She hopes this will help residents from falling prey to predatory businesses.
“There is no need to pay an outside group a feed to do this for you,” she said. In her office hangs a picture of her mother in Cairo, and later worked in public relations for the Ford Motor Co. Her father served in the Air Force and was a longtime sales representative for the South Carolina Gas Co.
“My mother was a writer and she loved books. Part of her collection is in my office. With all these books on Kindle, the world has changed. Books are just a treasure,” she said. She hopes others can hold onto their history as well.
“My sister and I were floored when my mother told us we were Jewish. My mother was from that generation that had seen so much prejudice. We don’t know what we don’t know,” she said. “If we know our history, at least we have a foundation to start from.”
Laura Hoover is a freelance writer who lives in Doylestown. She and her husband are parents to three boys, a very patient dog and many plants.