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

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Maryland: State Archives: Wonderful Local Sources for Genealogical Research

Maryland Hall of Records
My wife and I spent the last year (2018) digitizing probate records for FamilySearch at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, Maryland. Ultimately, those digital records will be available both at the Archives and on the website. If you want to have an in-depth view of working at the Archives, you can find that in my blog series entitled, "A Family History Mission." If you do a Google search for that title with my name, you will see almost 100 posts about our experiences at the archives. You can also see the following webinar on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel.

A Family History Mission: Digitizing Records for Family Search by James Tanner

While working at the Archives, I gained a valuable appreciation for the work of conserving and preserving important genealogical records. Our work at the Archives also gave us an appreciation for the difficulty of creating and maintaining a working archive.

The Maryland State Archives is known as "The Hall of Records." It is located just outside of the historic downtown area of Annapolis, Maryland and adjacent to the United States Naval Academy in the Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse State Archives Building, 350 Rowe Blvd, Annapolis, MD 21401. The Archives features an active outreach program and is open for researchers six days a week except for state and national holidays. As with any government agency, it is best to double check if the Archives will be open before traveling to the facility.

We functioned as volunteers in the Archives and worked a regular shift of 8:00 to 4:30 five days a week. We were primarily involved in preparing individual documents for digitization and then digitizing those same documents plus digitizing large court record books. The focus of the FamilySearch digitization project was probate records from the Maryland State Orphans Court. The Project covers all of the counties in Maryland. Records from the individual counties were being transported to the Archives for the Project. The Project is designed to continue for many years. When we arrived, the Project had been ongoing for about five years and it will continue many years into the future.

Here is a short description of the records from the Archives' website:
The State Archives serves as the central depository for government records of permanent value. Its holdings date from Maryland's founding in 1634, and include colonial and state executive, legislative, and judicial records; county probate, land, and court records; church records; business records; state publications and reports; and special collections of private papers, maps, photographs, and newspapers.
We handled records dating back into the mid-1700s many of the earlier records have already been digitized. This brings up an important point about State Archives. When planning a research trip to an archive, take the time to do some extensive searching online before traveling to the physical location. The digitized records may be available online from one or more of the large online genealogy websites, or may even be available from the archives' websites by searching. The Maryland State Archives has an extensive catalog of records online but the vast majority of those records are only available by visiting the Archives building and asking to see the original records. Some of the digital records are also only available from computers in the Archives building. Another example of the need to physically visit the Archives is the fact that they still maintain a huge paper-based card catalog that contains entries by individual's names as well as by category of records.

Like many other archives around the country, the Maryland State Archives has a web page dedicated to genealogy or family history.

The Archives' website also has links to their digital resources:

There is also a valuable website about the online resources entitled, "Archives of Maryland Online."
My time working at the Archives gave me a graphic example of the reality of records searching in the United States. Despite the huge number of commonly available online records, there is still an unimaginably large number of valuable documents that can be accessed and viewed only by physically visiting the repositories. For example, the probate records we were digitizing contained comprehensive information about entire families, but this information is not likely available anywhere else and until all the records are digitized, there is still a need to look through the individual records even if at some time in the future the main entries are indexed. It is not likely that all the names in these documents will ever be completely indexed.

If you would like a good overview of the Maryland State Archives, you can see a number of videos on their Channel.
The Archives also has a continuing outreach program called Lunch and Learn.
As with every state archives, it is a good idea to spend some time getting acquainted with all the online offerings. 

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