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What's Up Magazine

Discover State History & Maybe Yourself

Dec 21, 2017 09:00AM ● By James Houck

The Maryland State Archives was established in 1935 as the “Hall of Records.” It’s original building was on the campus of St. John’s College.

The Maryland State Archives holds the keys to historical records that could unlock your family genealogy

By Anna Linthicum and James Houck

The questions are many, as are the tools available to answer them. The data is voluminous, so much so that you’re not even sure what it is you’re looking for exactly. The history stretches back hundreds of years and there’s a hunch that you’re entwined somehow. And so, the quest begins to unlock your family history as it relates to the great State of Maryland. Your starting point…the Maryland State Archives.

If you’re one of the many thousands of Marylanders with generational roots in the state, there’s a favorable chance that your last name is attached to archived records in the State’s holdings—records that could fulfill genealogical pursuits and add intrigue and enrichment to self-awareness and family pride. The rub, of course, is knowing where to begin your search and how to recognize relevant information, much like solving a mystery in which one clue leads to the next. A bit of luck also comes into play.

The results depend on what, exactly, you’re hoping to gain from the experience. Are you trying to trace your family tree with precision and learn about day-to-day life according to journal entries and legal documents? Or are you simply interested in a casual perusal of records for personal enjoyment? Your answers to such questions can be the difference between frustration and reward. With hard work, however, genealogy often proves to be both.


The Archives of Maryland Online is home to over 471,000 documents alone.


Today, the Maryland State Archives provides a wealth of resources, online and traditional, to assist your genealogical pursuits. And it’s taken decades to become this beacon of records and knowledge.

In 1935, the Hall of Records was established as an independent agency “charged with the collection, custody, and preservation of the official records, documents, and publications of the state.” By 1970, the Hall of Records was incorporated into the Department of General Services and in 1984, it was renamed the State Archives, becoming an independent agency within the office of the Governor.

Originally, the Hall of Records was constructed on St. John’s College grounds in Annapolis in 1934–1935 as part of the Tercentenary celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the founding of Maryland. Laurence Hall Fowler served as lead architect and designed a building that “was a celebration of Maryland colonial architecture.” The building could house 18,000 cubic feet of archival material, which was expected to sufficiently hold the growth of records up to the year 2000. By 1969, the hall was overwhelmed with material. So much so that within 11 years, more than 65,000 cubic feet of material was being housed in warehouses off site. A new permanent building was sorely needed; one that could not only accommodate the growth of its collections, but also the research of those records.

In 1986, the new Maryland State Archives building opened its doors, due in large part to the program development of Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse, the State Archivist. At the time of it’s opening, the building boasted the second largest installation of compact shelving in the United States, exceeded only by the Madison Building of the Library of Congress. The Archives stack capacity is 160,000 cubic feet, with some 38 miles of shelving in the system. The entire building is 100,000 square feet. According to the MSA, “Four floors hold the main stack areas and seven rooms are designed for the care of special collections, such as maps, photographs, and electromagnetic media. The general stack areas and four of the special collections rooms are maintained at 60 degrees and 55 percent relative humidity. Three special collections rooms are maintained at 50 degrees and 35 percent relative humidity for the storage of photographic materials. Fire control for the main stack spaces is provided by a sprinkler system with on\off heads. Special collections rooms have Halon fire-suppression systems installed.”
Located on Rowe Boulevard in Annapolis, the Maryland State Archives’ current building was conceived and built in the early 1980s, officially opening to the public in 1986.
Additionally, there is a public reference/search room that can accommodate up to 60 researchers. Should you decide to visit the Archives in person, you’ll have space to conduct research. Of course, today, many of the records have been digitized for online searching and reviewing (The Archives of Maryland Online is home to over 471,000 documents alone.)

The Maryland State Archives is full of information that the casual observer may overlook. There are colonial and state government records, county records, and church and business records, to generally name a few. While this wealth of information may appear daunting at first, it is preferable to a lack of information. Flawed or incomplete records often jeopardized early (think 1700–1800s) Marylanders’ legal, real estate, and familial research. Land was often surveyed through the designation of a “beginning tree.” Imagine the disagreements that could have occurred. Additionally, court records were not maintained well. Who married who when? Thankfully, as the importance of recorded information became more formalized by the 1900s, so too did the State recognize the need for its preservation.

Reviewing this material can be a transporting experience. Documents with unfamiliar vernacular, geographic references and century-old maps, historic photographs, and microfilm of newspapers from decades ago help paint a picture of the way we were as a state, community, or, even family. Distilling this vast amount of information into a personal experience is the reward.

I—Anna Linthicum—searched my last name while conducting research on the Maryland State Archives web page. While growing up, I was somewhat aware of my family’s history within Maryland. Driving along highways, my last name would flash by on exit signs. It was a common joke to receive pictures of these signs from my friends as they drove through Maryland; “Look Anna, we are coming to see you!”

My father also played a large role in my knowledge of our family history. He would tell me the story of the Linthicum Family when I was a little girl, and it is now engrained in my memory after countless (and endless) history lessons at the dinner table.

When looking through Archives of Maryland Online, I found myself feeling the same enthusiasm that possessed my dad. I landed on a search page called “Maryland Historic Properties.” I have a fondness for architecture (also from my dad), so I clicked on the link to browse through the beautiful historic homes of Maryland. Just for fun, I typed our last name into the search bar, and it turned out that my great-grandfather’s house was listed as a historic property in Rockville. I was able to read about his father, the original owner of the house and one-time Mayor of Rockville, and see a photograph of the house that my dad had talked so fondly of at the dinner table. I sent him a picture of the house, to which he replied, “I used to cut that grass every week.” It’s fascinating to learn about my family history through the online tools of the Archives.

Robert Clark, President and CEO of Historic Annapolis Foundation, is another Maryland native with a rich family history that can be traced through the State’s vast archives.

A sixth generation Marylander, Clark was inspired by his late father to dig more into his family’s past. Now, entering his fifth year as the President of Historic Annapolis, Clark says that it was easy to spark an interest in history once the “code had been broken.” His discovery was almost 300 years in the making.

David, John, and James Clark, brothers from Ireland, arrived in Maryland in the 1700s and signed an indenture to work for Charles Carroll on a fulling mill. Their father had been employed by Carroll for about a year before his sons joined him.

Robert’s father had a copy of this indenture, which he had seen growing up. This document had contributed to his interest in his family history. With assistance from other researchers and land records, Robert and his father were able to locate where, they believed, their family had lived in the 1700s.

They took a road trip to Carroll’s Mill Road in Ellicott City recently, upon where they visited an inconspicuous historic site. One snowy day on the Patapsco River, Clark said that he and his father “could see the ruins of the stone building.” It was an ultimately fulfilling experience.
Historic Annapolis President and CEO Robert Clark, whose recorded family genealogy dates back to the 1700s in Maryland, reviews documents in the Maryland State Archives Search Room.
Researching one’s genealogy can be a strenuous task, one that requires both dedication and an ability to overcome seemingly dead ends. But the results can be so rewarding. Clark says that “success inflamed passion” during his own search, and he certainly found success in those ruins on the river.

To find a physical representation of one’s past when researching family history is a pinnacle achievement; but not everyone is as fortunate. There are moments when it may seem frustrating. Finding answers can often lead to more questions.

But as overwhelming as this may seem, those answers are waiting to be found. The Maryland State Archives can not only help provide the answers to many of your questions, but also encourage the pursuit of discovery.

Begin Your Search

The Maryland State Archives holds many keys to unlock answers to questions that we haven’t even asked ourselves yet. With multiple collections and catalogued records in storage and digitized for online pursuing, we are able to learn more about our history than we ever dreamed. There are several general collections that are searchable online. They are:

Archives of Maryland Online:

Historical documents that enable users to research topics on Maryland's constitutions and proceedings, session laws, proceedings of the General Assembly, governors’ papers, military records, and more.

Census Index:

Available census indexes: 1776, 1778, 1870, 1880.

Early Settlers of Maryland:

The New Early Settlers of Maryland comprises 34,326 entries from Gust Skordas’ Early Settlers of Maryland.

Government Publications:

Published sources, from annual and other department and agency reports to newsletters and press releases.

Guide to Government Records:

Finding aid created to assist users in their search for particular records such as birth, death, marriage, court, land, and legislative.

Legacy of Slavery Database:

Over 300,000 slave owners, enslaved and free individuals from 1830–1880.

Library Catalog:

Published records and sources on Maryland history, government, geography, and natural resources; municipals; regional studies; Chesapeake Bay; research guides and more.

Maryland Historical Magazine:

Original issues of the magazine have been scanned and made available online. An imaging project between Maryland Historical Society and the Archives.

Maryland Inventory Historical Properties:

Comprised of nearly 90,000 resources, composed of archaeological sites, building, structures, objects, and survey districts.

Maryland Land Records:

Digital image retrieval system for land record in Maryland. Deeds, mortgage and deeds of trust, and land records.

Maryland Vital Record:

Indexing project provides digital access to county death record indices from 1898–1944, and Baltimore City death record indices 1875–1970.

Medicine in Maryland:

Marylanders who have worked in various medical occupations, including a list of hospitals and medical schools operating in Maryland between 1752–1920.

Mount Auburn Cemetery:

Cemetery of former slaves, clergymen, teachers, doctors, military veterans, and Civil Rights leaders as well as countless African-American families.

Plats & Surveys:

Land survey, subdivision, and condominium plats.

PG County Freedom Records:

Over 18,000 index cards of free blacks and former owners listed in Prince George's County records.

Special Collections:

Finding aid of records acquired as gifts or deposits by private donors that consist of personal letters, diaries, organizational and religious records, newspapers, photographs, maps, and documents.

St. Mary's County Career Files:

The career files consist of over 47,000 5x8 index cards and slips of paper, with both typewritten and handwritten research notes about over 6,600 individuals.

If You Go:

Maryland State Archives, 350 Rowe Boulevard, Annapolis, 410-260-6400, Open Tuesday through Friday and most Saturdays; 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. On Saturdays, the Search Room closes for lunch 12–1 p.m. The Archives is closed Sunday, Monday, and Saturdays of holiday weekends. Records are pulled every half hour starting at 8:45 a.m. with the last pull of the day at 3:45 p.m.