History of the Archives

man with desk

The Hall of Records, predecessor of the Maryland State Archives, was created as an independent agency in 1935, charged with the collection, custody, and preservation of the official records, documents, and publications of the state (Chapter 18, Acts of 1935). Impetus for its development can be traced to the state's tercentenary celebrations of 1934. The Maryland Tercentenary Commission made a modern, centralized archives a key feature of the commemoration of the state's 300th anniversary. A "Memorial Hall of Records" was proposed as early as 1928, and in 1931, the General Assembly appropriated funds to erect an archives building which was opened to the public in 1935. A Hall of Records Commission was also created in 1935 to serve as management for the Archives; it took on an advisory role in 1984. The Hall of Records was incorporated into the Department of General Services in 1970 (Chapter 97, Acts of 1970). In 1984, it was renamed the State Archives and became an independent agency within the office of the Governor (Chapter 286, Acts of 1984). See also Maryland Manual On-Line information on the Archives' Origins and Functions.

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. These records are kept in a humidity and temperature controlled environment and any necessary preservation measures are conducted in the Archives' conservation laboratory.

State, county, and municipal government agencies may offer the Archives all files, documents, and records not in current use. The records of all state agencies, boards, and commissions that were abolished or have concluded their work must be transferred to the Archives. Departments and agencies must dispose of their records according to established retention schedules approved by the state archivist. Records found to be permanently valuable may be transferred to the Archives as determined by these schedules.

Records that are in the county courthouses created prior to Maryland's ratification of the United States Constitution on April 28, 1788, are deposited at the Archives. Current deeds, mortgages, and releases recorded in the circuit courts are microfilmed and preserved at the State Archives, and it is the official depository for duplicate copies of subdivision plats formerly sent to the land office to insure against loss of originals. The Archives also preserves and makes accessible vital records information, a responsibility shared with the Division of Vital Records of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The Archives maintains a collection of publications and reports of state, county, and municipal agencies which it has collected since 1947. It receives state publications and reports under the state publication depository and distribution program established in 1982. It is also the official depository for county charters, codes, and laws, and the Department of Legislative Services deposits municipal charter amendments and annexations with the Archives after publication.

Independent of his duties as archivist, the State Archivist is designated Commissioner of Land Patents and is responsible for issuing land patents and conducting court hearings (Chapter 355, Acts of 1967). Land patents, granting land in the state, were issued by the proprietors during the colonial period and later by the state. Though most land has been patented, land discovered to be vacant due to survey errors or tract inaccessibility may be patented after a title search is conducted.

The State Archivist also serves as the State Historical Records Coordinator for the Maryland Advisory Board of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. This board, appointed by the governor, consists of seven members representating archival and research institutions and organizations in Maryland. The state advisory board works to carry out the historical records program of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The commission supports preservation and accessibility of records and cooperative efforts among institutions and organizations. In conjunction with this mission, the advisory board evaluates records grant proposals submitted to the NHPRC by state institutions, sponsors surveys of the condition and needs of historical records in the state and publishes survey results, and develops and reviews NHPRC funded historical records projects carried out in Maryland.

Traditionally, the State Archives has produced finding aids, guides to research, directories, historical monographs, and essays. Now, through electronic media, the Archives has made many of these accessible on the World Wide Web.

The State Archives is responsible for Maryland Electronic Capital, linking to the Web sites of government agencies. While the Archives compiles, edits, publishes, and distributes the Maryland Manual, a biennual guide to Maryland government, it also maintains and continuously updates the Maryland Manual On-Line.

Within the State Archives are the Commission on Artistic Property, and a number of units, including Appraisal and Preservation; Education and Exhibits; Government Information Services; Imaging Services; Information Systems Management; Land Patents; Reference Services; and Special Collections. The State Archives is aided by the Hall of Records Commission.