Icon Beginner's Guide to Research at the Maryland State Archives

Introduction to Research at the Maryland State Archives

The Maryland State Archives is the repository for all permanent State, county, and municipal government records. Archives' holdings also include some non-governmental material, such as church records, newspapers, maps, manuscripts, and photographs, as part of our Special Collections.

The purpose of this site is to provide an inventory of the Archives' holdings and to aid our patrons in their use.

Understanding the organization of the Guide to Government Records (or Guide) is the first key to pursuing successful research at the Archives. Each group of records, or record series, is first identified by the level of government (State, county, or municipality) that created it and then by the appropriate agency (circuit court, register of wills, etc.). Next, each record series is given a "title" based on its content. Each record series is then assigned a "series number" based on its order of receipt at the Archives. The Guide groups all State agency records together, all county agency records together, and all municipal agency records together. For further details about entries in the Guide, see Introduction to Guide to Government Records.

Prior to conducting research at the Archives, the researcher should identify a particular question or questions he or she would like answered.  The next step is to identify the types of records and any existing indices that would be likely to help find an answer. The Archives provides a number of online resources to aid the researcher in this task. Our Reference & Research homepage provides a topical list of our most popular record series and research subjects. See also Understanding Maryland Records.

Researchers should be aware that, while many key indices and records series are available online, because of the breadth of the Archives' holdings, most records have not been digitized and are not available online.  Use the "Link" and "Links" columns in the Guide to access the available electronic copies of paper or microfilm records.

The Archives relies on State and county agencies for delivery of their records and creation of indices to them. Therefore, the Archives does not possess all extant indices or records, as some remain at the agency of origin or are not scheduled for permanent retention.

Special Collections at the Archives consists of non-government materials donated by private individuals or organizations. The Special Collections page contains a list of the basic categories of records in our Special Collections, the most popular being church records and newspapers. Researchers can also search the Special Collections guide by keyword to find collections related to specific topics or persons.

Unlike most genealogical libraries, the Archives does not have vertical surname files, but does have a selection of family histories that have been donated by researchers. Those titles can be searched by using the Archives' Library search engine.

Questions regarding Archives collections and services should be directed to the Reference Services Department at: ref@msa.maryland.gov.

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This information resource of the Maryland State Archives is presented here for fair use in the public domain. When this material is used, in whole or in part, proper citation and credit must be attributed to the Maryland State Archives. PLEASE NOTE: Rights assessment for associated source material is the responsibility of the user.

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