Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Libraries, Books, Genealogists and the State Library of Arizona

"Arizona1895" by Rand McNally - Rand McNally 1895. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -
For the past month or so, I have been closely watching the developments in the controversy over the movement of the Genealogy collection in the Arizona State Capital Building. At issue is the physical closing of the Genealogy Library and the consolidation of the collection with the rest of the State Archives located in the Polly Rosenbaum Archives and History Building. See the Azcentral news article entitled, "Researchers lament Arizona genealogy library's sudden downsizing, relocation." The main issue seems to be political, the Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan, apparently made the decision to move the collection without input from other agencies or from the public. I wrote a few of my impressions on the subject in a post entitled, "About Books and Libraries and Such."

Some of the genealogists reporting the incident have vastly over stated the number of resources available in State Genealogy Collection. On the other hand, the newspaper reports also show a lack of understanding of the content of the records.

It is a little bit difficult to separate the items specifically in the Genealogy Collection from those generally kept in the State Archives. The collection available at the State Archives Building contains the following types of resources, according to the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records website:
  • Assessment Rolls containing lists of taxable persons and their property.
  • Brand Indexes and Books.
  • Coroner or Justice Court records detail inquests held for violent or suspicious deaths
  • Great Registers containing personal information required of those who registered to vote.
  • Records from the Territorial Prison.
  • Superior Court records including marriage licenses, wills, probate cases, and civil and criminal cases. 
  • Historic Arizona newspapers
  • Arizona Collection with more than 75,000 items 
  • A Ready Reference collection of general books
It has never been clear from the online discussion, just exactly which resources were in the Genealogy Section at the State Capital and what was already in the Polly Rosenbaum Archives and History Building.

For about ten years, I assisted patrons at the Mesa FamilySearch Library with genealogical research and I have some very specific observations about genealogy in Arizona. It is important to know a little history. The first major settlements in Arizona began in the mid-1500s by the Spanish explorers and priests of the Catholic Church. Arizona was part of Mexico until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Until that time, Arizona was largely ignored by European settlers. In 1849, Arizona was mainly a corridor for travel to California, particularly during the Gold Rush years.

During the U.S. Civil War, the United States withdrew its troops from Arizona and there was a movement by the those living in the Southern part of Arizona (part of New Mexico Territory) to join the Confederacy. A contingent of Union soldiers from California fought one battle in 1862 and several later battles that ended with the United States splitting New Mexico Territory into New Mexico and Arizona Territories in 1863. 

Indian resistance to the influx of European settlers kept most of the settlements out of the Territory until the 1870s. Mormon settlers came into the State in the 1870s and other settlements began about the same time. The population of Arizona in 1900 was 122,931 (including Indians and Mexicans). 
By 1910, the population had almost doubled to 204,354. See US Population by State from 1900.

My comment on this history has always been that Arizona has little or no genealogy. If your ancestors came to Arizona as early settlers, it is very likely that you already know their names and their history. This may not be the case with the younger population, but it is certainly the case with those my age. Everyone else came from somewhere else. In all the years I worked at the Mesa FamilySearch Library, I almost never had a questions about research in Arizona. 

Of all the people who are up in arms over the movement and consolidation of the Genealogy Collection, I would suggest that very few of them have ever done any in depth research specifically in Arizona records. The newspaper accounts and other online blog posts etc. do not dispute the fact that the use of the Genealogy Collection at the State Capital was almost zero. 

Now, I could make some additional observations about the changes in the use of paper documents, but I have written quite a bit about that lately. I suggest that the situation in Arizona is a special case. The effort should have been and still should be to get the State to digitize their documents, like is done in Washington State, and make them generally available to the public. If they have a collection of books or other copyright protected documents, list them in a catalog. Meanwhile, all those writing about the subject should confess whether they have ever used the Arizona State Archives Collections before they lament the loss. 

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