Research: It’s a New Ball Game as Free Websites Provide Digital Copies of Wills, Maps, Newspapers, and Photos

In this rapidly expanding world of online information, lots of helpful data is often just a few keystrokes away.  The amount is exploding exponentially as a number of for-profit digital publishers, such as Ancestry and GenealogyBank, have taken the lead in making vast amounts of material available instantly.  Beyond these excellent data aggregators, there are some free, open source repositories which are helpful too.  Since they’re not as well-known, we thought we’d mention a few here in case you’re struggling with fee-based research overload.

An 1870s digital edition of the Whig from the State Archives.

Maryland Newspapers – The Early State Records Online repository at the state archives website has started creating digital images from the Maryland Newspaper Project microfilm done in the early 1980s.  If you visit the site, you’ll see listings from Baltimore, Cambridge, Elkton, Centreville, Easton, Chestertown, and elsewhere.  Right now the Cecil Whig is available from 1870 to 1874 but it is not a searchable database.  Users scan through it, reading the pages just as one does when using microfilm.  Still it’s nice to have it available at your fingertips and more will be added as time goes  on.  Also on this site are many other state records, such as the minutes of the legislature, the Maryland Laws, and lots more.

The will of Rebeccah Armstrong in 1774 from FamilySearch.

Family Search – This vast online repository is a most valuable resource for genealogical researcher.  It actively gathers, preserves and shares genealogical records worldwide and patrons my freely access resources and services online.  While there are many exciting databases there, one that is particularly helpful for us local involves probate records.  FamilySearch is currently digitizing the records of the Maryland Register of Wills and that work is going in a number of counties.  Right now, you may surf over and access digitized copies of probate records into the early decades of the 1800s.   There are lots of other resources, including census and death records, worth checking out so be sure to visit this valuable online resource.

The Maryland Digital Cultural Heritage Program – This site is a collaborative, statewide digitization program headquartered at the Enoch Pratt Free Library Resource Center in Baltimore.  Its goal is to partner with Maryland libraries, archives, historical societies and museums to digitize and provide free online access to materials relating to Maryland.  Since the program began in 2002, the collection has grown to over 5,000 items, such as maps, manuscripts, photographs, artwork, books and other media.

Library of Congress, American Memory — A portion of the vast resources of the Library of Congress has been digitized and there’ll you find photos, maps, ephemera, advertising, and so much more.  One we often use involves the Great Depression Era photographs of old strucutres, as they were documented for the Historic American Building Survey.  You’ll find plenty to keep you busy there so just check it out.

There are many more and we’ll provide a post on additional free resources later.

This WPA of Rising Sun is for Project 277. It is providing sewers and a treatment plant for the town. From the MD Digital Cultural Heritage Program.

The WPA Elkton reservoir project on Red Hill about 1935

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