By Jeanne Rollberg
Are you interested in staying up all night and researching your ancestors at an archives to break down some brick walls? In West Virginia, “Hoot-Owl Night” allows genealogy night owls to work in the archives from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. on April 7-8, 2017. Last year, the State Archives of North Carolina provided an all-day workshop about searching for African-American ancestors. These events are just two indicators that in addition to the many historical and cultural treasures in state archives, they contain information essential to ancestor research that we sometimes overlook. The National and Archives and Records Administration provides helpful state archives resources and contact lists for archives that genealogists might explore here.
As we investigated in Part I of the series, the repositories help family history researchers document families at the “micro” level. This article explores three state archives, Wisconsin, Utah, and Georgia, and how researchers can use them to learn more about families. Part I of the series is here.
Wisconsin Historical Society Library Reading Room
State Archives Organization, and Wisconsin
It surely varies, but state archives are often organized with a “main branch” and satellite branches strategically placed around a state, commonly in connection with universities or historical associations.
A unique archives is the combination State Historical Society of Wisconsin in Madison that has a Division of Library-Archives and a Division of Historic Preservation-Public History that may be of particular interest to researchers because of their breadth in American history. For example, the Historical Society’s newspaper collection is more extensive than any other entity in the United States except for the Library of Congress.
The archive is found at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Wisconsin is lucky to have the oldest historical society in the country to receive continuous funding – since the 1850s. The Division of Library-Archives has about 4 million items, and it’s the largest in the world dedicated to the history of North America. Wisconsin, the United States and Canada are documented here. It has ancestral information and county and local histories that help genealogists, and the web site boasts about family history research opportunities. The official repository of state and local government records is here as well. There are more than 80,000 historical photographs. More than 25,000 maps and atlases are available, and “most predate 1900,” the web site says. Survivors of the Holocaust who moved to Wisconsin are documented here, with 22 being interviewed for oral history purposes. The society’s library and archives holdings are searchable here.
Utah State Archives
The Utah Legislature recognized the Historical Society of Utah in 1917, indicating that the society was “hereby made a custodian of all records, documents, relics and other material of historic value, which are now or hereafter may be in charge of any State, county, or other official,” according to its website. The archives headquarters is in Salt Lake City. There are Utah territorial records beginning in 1850 and ending in 1896, when the territory achieved statehood. The archives holds local government records, the most complete of which concern the Salt Lake County Commission. The repository includes information about various historical laws related to Mormonism as well as court records. These include a historic divorce and alimony case between Latter Day Saint leader Brigham Young and his wife, Ann Eliza Webb.
Given that it is the country’s 75th anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Japanese internment order in 2017, the archives this month is displaying documents related to internment in Utah. The helpful Utah Digital Archives overview is here.
The Georgia Archives is headquartered in Morrow, Georgia, just south of Atlanta.
At the “virtual vault,” the web site says the portal “provides virtual access to historic Georgia manuscripts, photographs, maps, and government records housed in the state archives.” Was your Georgia ancestor in politics? You may enjoy the “Campaign Materials Collection” related to the Georgia Capitol Museum.
Some Georgia marriage records for particular counties from microfilm may be found at the archives as well. There is also a Newspapers on Microfilm Index, but without newspaper images themselves. Newspapers often form a critical source for family historians learning more about individual ancestors.
Like many other research repositories, the Georgia Archives provides free “Lunch & Learn” lectures, such as one coming up in March, 2017 about preserving photographs and another in April about Georgia’s rural churches. These kinds of events help genealogists preserve their family’s history and also learn more about resources of ancestor time periods.
Prepare Before You Go To State Archives
Owing to the massiveness of materials at state archives and to make the best use of your own time as a researcher, it’s a good idea to search archives collections online and contact the archives at least a week before visiting. This enables archivists to prepare materials for your visit in some cases, and is a chance for you to clear up possible misunderstandings about what you’ll actually be able to find there. Clarify the rules about what is allowed into the archives (such as laptops, cameras, etc.). Archives generally require research supervision for information seekers because of the especially valuable historic information found there.
Wisconsin Historical Society Library Reading Room, photo by James Steakley, Creative Commons attribution