Apr 14, 2023

Visit a State Archive this Year

April 14, 2023

Over the past few years, the internet has been a lifeline for genealogical research. Without it, these pandemic years would have stopped our research in its tracks.


Now that the pandemic is pretty much under control, we need to remember that only about ten per cent of all genealogical records are available online. It’s time to return to the wide array of repositories that hold genealogical records. Courthouses, libraries, museums and cemeteries are only the beginning of the resources that await us.


Some of these resources are well-known and utilized. Others tend to be overlooked. State archives are one of my favorite genealogical destinations, but they are among the underutilized. Over the years, I’ve visited archives in several states from California to Utah to New Jersey. They’re rarely busy which makes them an ideal research location.


In addition, nearly every state has a state archive and/or a state library. They’re usually located in the state capitol, making them easy to locate. The contents of the various archives vary by state, but original documents are usually held in all of them. Counties and cities often send older records to state archives for preservation. Most of these documents are not digitized and can be found nowhere else.


One year on a trip to Salt Lake City, I visited the Utah State Archives. I was able to access original probate packets for several of my ancestors. Many of these probates cannot be found online. During that same visit, I discovered committal papers to the state mental institution for a great uncle. Later, the archives’ staff helped me fill out the paperwork to order copies of his hospital records. When the records arrived, they made for grim reading, but I learned a lot about this uncle and his sad life.


On a later trip to California, I visited the California State Archives in Sacramento. Here I spent a day searching through microfilmed newspapers for obituaries for various relatives. These were small town newspapers that are not digitized even today. The towns were scattered throughout California, and I never could have visited each of them to access their local newspapers.


Another I spent some time in the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton. There I was able to see and hold my husband’s third great-grandfather’s original militia records which detailed his rise to Major in that organization. I also accessed death certificates for a dozen ancestors. Again, none of them were available online.


These are only a sample of the types of records I’ve found in state archives. Each of them holds treasures for the intrepid genealogist who visits. If possible, add a trip to a state archive or two to your research itinerary this year.


If you can’t make a trip to an archive in person, be sure to check out the websites for the various state archives. Many of them have online databases. In addition, copies of various records can be ordered from most of them.


Happy Researching,


Carol Stetser