We’re celebrating Florida Archives Month in October! Here is a look at the State Archives of Florida, and the collections you can find offline and online.
Due to COVID-19, the State Library and the State Archives of Florida are currently closed to the public until further notice.
What Are Archives?
The Society of American Archivists defines the word in there different ways:
- The word archives (usually written with a lower case a and sometimes referred to in the singular, as archive) refers to the permanently valuable records—such as letters, reports, accounts, minute books, draft and final manuscripts, and photographs—of people, businesses, and government. These records are kept because they have continuing value to the creating agency and to other potential users. They are the documentary evidence of past events. They are the facts we use to interpret and understand history.
- An Archives (often written with a capital A and usually, but not always, in the plural) is an organization dedicated to preserving the documentary heritage of a particular group: a city, a province or state, a business, a university, or a community. For example, the National Archives and Records Administration in the United States, Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, The Coca-Cola Company Archives, and The Archives of the Episcopal Church are all responsible for the preservation and management of archives.
- The word archives is also used to refer to the building or part of a building in which archival materials are kept, i.e., the archival repository itself.
Collections at the State Archives
The State Archives of Florida is the repository for the archives of state government. The records contained at the Archives are among the most important historical and cultural resources belonging to the people of Florida.
State & Local Government Records
This collection is over 45,000 cubic feet of records that document the history, organization and functions of Florida’s territorial and state government from 1821 to present.
These records have enduring historical research value and provide a record of state agencies of the executive, legislative and judicial branches, including, gubernatorial records, legislative committee bill files, Supreme Court case files, military records, and more.
The Archives maintains a small collection of original local government public records from agencies throughout the state, including records of probate proceedings, property tax records, election records and city and county commission records.
A large collection of microfilmed county tax, deed, marriage, probate, and some birth and naturalization records are of particular value to patrons engaged in genealogical research.
Private Manuscript Collections
Manuscripts are writings that have not been published and are valuable for genealogical research and adding context to our family history. The manuscript collection at the Archives contains records of private individuals and organizations that have shaped and influenced Florida from the pre-territorial period to the present day.
Records in this collection include diaries, correspondence, journals, business and church records, maps, photographs, other related materials; and organizational papers of business, fraternal, professional, religious, and social organizations.
The Florida Photographic Collection
The Florida Photographic Collection is comprised of approximately 1.5 million still images and over 7,000 movies and videotapes. This collection is nationally recognized and the largest and most comprehensive collection of Florida-related images in existence.
The earliest items in the collection are copies of colonial-era maps and prints, while photographic documentation begins from the middle of the 19th century. The earliest photograph dates back to 1845 and films and videos date from 1916 to the present.
This collection visually documents the people, places, and events that have contributed to the state’s history and development from the mid-15th century to the present.
The Archives genealogical collection consists of an extensive library and archival materials, including:
- Family, state, county, and local histories
- Immigration lists
- Census records
- Church, cemetery, and military records
- Genealogical journals
- Reference books
- A wide variety of other published and unpublished sources, including online genealogical research resources
- The collection contains materials related to Florida and other southeastern states.
They also maintain a family name file, which is a vertical file of donated family charts and research notes.
The State Archives of Florida’s Florida Memory has a wonderful guide to help you get started!
Before you Visit the Archives
Start your research in the Online Catalog. Having your research plan ready before a trip to the Archives will ensure you have a successful visit! This can be daunting for some so the State Archives of Florida has provided a wonder FAQ on getting started and a video tutorial.
Florida Memory is a digital outreach program providing free online access to selected archival resources from collections of the State Archives of Florida and the State Library of Florida.
Florida Memory has over 320,000 digitized photographs and documents available for people to browse from the comfort of their homes.
This large number of digitized materials accounts for less than 2% of the State Archives’ holdings.
The Florida Memory Guide to Genealogical Research is an excellent resource for understanding what’s available online.
Behind the Scenes at the Archives
What’s New at the Archives
From Josh Goodman, Ph.D., Archives Historian
The most recent addition to the Florida Memory website is the Florida mortality schedules for the federal censuses of 1850 through 1880. These records document the deaths of more than 8,000 Floridians at a time when other kinds of death records are hard to find or non-existent. The imaging was done at the State Archives, but about 85% of the indexing was done by our dedicated corps of Digital Volunteers. With their help, indexing those 8,000+ lines of data took about two months, whereas if staff alone had worked on the project we would probably still be inputting data now.
Digital Volunteers have just finished transcribing a batch of 96 sharecropper contracts from Jefferson County dating back to 1867. These records have been online for a few years, but they were not transcribed, and a number of the names needed a closer look to verify spelling. These records are so very important for researching African American ancestors because they document the whereabouts and names of Black individuals during a moment of rapid transition. People were moving, getting married, changing their names—in a word, rebuilding their way of life. So much happens between emancipation and the 1870 census that genealogists can easily hit a brick wall when they trace an African American ancestor back to this point. Sharecropper contracts supervised by the Freedmen’s Bureau can be critical data points for keeping the trail going as you head backward in time.
Right now, the Archives are focusing on two major projects, both of which we expect to be very helpful to genealogists. One is a database of state and county officers going as far back as 1845. For most of the statehood period, the Secretary of State has maintained an index of every commissioned officer at the state and county level, whether s/he was elected or appointed. The index records not only each person’s name and the date of their commission, but also their post office address and information about how their term ended (normal expiration, resignation, death, removal, etc.). Digital Volunteers are currently helping with this project by transcribing the data from these handwritten volumes, which will be presented along with the page images on Florida Memory. Digital Volunteers are also working on a similar project transcribing an alphabetical index of every inmate ever incarcerated at the Florida State Prison at Raiford between the 1870s and about 1960. We are about 70% of the way through that collection. There is definitely room for more helpers on either of these projects!
The State Archives recently acquired a new overhead scanning station that can make preservation-grade high-resolution digital reproductions of anything from the size of a plat map down to a 35mm slide instantaneously. This will greatly expedite the process of scanning in new collections, and it will also make it possible for the Archives to accept more loans of historical records for digitization since we can scan the material much faster now. Our first goal is to finish scanning the records for the state and county officer database, but once that is complete we’re hoping to get started on our collection of 19th-century tax rolls. Those have been available on microfilm for a long time now, but the imaging on the film wasn’t always so good, and the originals are just easier to read.
Become a Digital Volunteer
Becoming a Digital Volunteer is easy. No special software is required (we work through Google Drive and Google Sheets), and we have no particular expectations as to how much work a volunteer will do. We assign the work in small batches, and volunteers complete the assignments as they have time. We do have a few “rock stars” on the team who enjoy the challenge of larger assignments, and we’re naturally glad to oblige, but that’s all up to the volunteer. We’re just delighted to be getting this data out to the public so much faster than we could on our own. Anyone who is interested in becoming a Digital Volunteer is welcome to contact me directly at [email protected] for more details.