A Guide to Genealogical Research in the Maryland Department
Before You Begin Your Library Research
Working with genealogy will involve creating an important record that is fun, educational and leaves a lasting record for your family. In our state we are fortunate to have many institutions and interested people who have collected and published information on our ancestors. Before coming to the library to investigate records be sure to speak with others in your family to identify facts, such as the spelling of names, correct relationships and dates. Find out if there are family bibles containing information or if anyone has located some genealogical account of your family already.
What you want to be able to provide by the time you contact the library are the following:
- Which time period do I need to search?
- What county or counties does my family come from?
- What have I already found, or which documents do I already have?
The Maryland Department collection contains a variety of resources that are useful in conducting genealogical research. For the most part, these aids can be divided into two types: those that include names or information for the entire state of Maryland, and those with information from individual counties. There are also a great many materials outside of books that supplement the cataloged collection and provide a valuable addition for both the beginning or experienced genealogist.
Genealogical Resources in the Maryland Department Collection
This portion of the collection includes books that cover all of Maryland. For the most part these books are one of three types: Indexes, Bibliographies and Directories. There are also some family histories included in the collection.
- Indexes usually list names in alphabetical order for the period of time the book covers. Among these sources users will find general indexes, Maryland Calendar of Wills, Archives of Maryland, immigrant arrivals from foreign countries and rosters of those from Maryland who fought in wars from the Revolution through World War II. An outstanding example of a family history index is Eleanor Phillips Passano’s An Index of the Source Records of Maryland, Genealogical, Biographical, Historical, published in 1940 (MD XF171.36.P33).
- Bibliographies contain listings of other books or articles that may be helpful in finding genealogical information. Many of the magazines and journals in the department that cover genealogy contain bibliographies of useful sources. You can find a list of history and genealogy resources in the Maryland collection on our Web site.
- Directories will generally refer you to other locations that may have information on the person or institutions you are trying to find. Edna A. Kanely’s Directory of Maryland Church Records (MD F171.38.K36) is a prime example, as well as Henry Peden’s A Guide to Genealogical Research in Maryland (MD XF171.38 .P425 2001).
Individual family histories are not generally collected in the Maryland Department, but through gifts over the years there are a few hundred family histories in the library. To find these, check the Library’s online catalog . Start by typing the family surname in the browse box and select Maryland Department under "Library". Most of these works are non-circulating, though a collection of circulating copies of selected works have been acquired since 1999. Photocopying is permitted from all sources, so if a book does not circulate you may obtain the pages you need.
County Specific Books
The Maryland Department attempts to obtain resources from all twenty-four Maryland counties. However, the researcher should be aware that there is a variance in the amount of information from county to county. Some counties have a lot of books and information to support genealogy, while others do not have as much. Due to this, county sources should be used in combination with statewide resources, in order to make the most effective use of the collection.
The following are some of the county-based genealogical resources in the Maryland Department:
- County histories: especially useful in finding surnames and family homes. You may want to review our bibliography of county histories .
- City directories can help you locate a person, family or business for a specific year or a span of years. Directories may also provide the occupation of people as well as listings for government agencies, churches and synagogues, and charitable institutions.
- Telephone directories from across the state.
- Criss-cross directories, or reverse telephone directories that list residents by street address rather than alphabetically by name.
- Newspaper indexes of marriages and deaths, including obituaries dating back to the early 18th century.
- Listings of interments from local cemeteries.
- Land patents
- Yearbooks from high schools and colleges, especially from the Baltimore area.
If you would like more detailed information on actual county sources, take a look our bibliography of genealogical resources available at the Pratt Library.
Many of the indexes in the Maryland Department contain genealogical information, and there are others that supplement this type of work very well.
- Indexes to the decennial censuses for Maryland from 1790 through 1870 (some specific county indexes may cover later censuses)
- Index to the Maryland Historical Magazine, 1906 –
- Index (Soundex) to Passenger Arrivals at the Port of Baltimore, 1820-1952
- Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at the Port of Baltimore, 1820-1948
- Index (Soundex) to Passenger Lists of Vessels arriving at Baltimore (City Passenger Lists), 1833-1866
- Index to Naturalization Petitions in U.S. Circuit and District Court of Maryland, 1797-1951 (actual copies of the petitions are available from 1906-1930 only)
- Internal Revenue Assessment Lists for Maryland, 1862-1866
- Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers (Union and Confederate) Who Served in Organizations from the State of Maryland, 1861-1865
- Index to the Baltimore Sun 1891 – 1959, 1983 – 1989 and Evening Sun 1910 – 1955
- Maryland Picture File – analytics to illustrations of persons and places found in books and periodicals in the collection
- Ephemera Collection – a database which provides access to a collection of miscellany which may include, but is not limited to: posters, letters, photographs, menus, programs and other interesting items.
The Maryland Department maintains one of the largest public collections of historic county newspapers in the state. Newspapers are a rich source of information when conducting family research. One can search for obituaries or death notices, marriages and births (though births are infrequently mentioned). It may also be useful to scan newspapers to locate social and political events, legal notices, ship arrivals and departures and disasters that identify individuals or ancestors. Even advertisements can provide valuable information on businesses that were run by family members. Access to newspaper holdings may be found at the Maryland Newspaper Project Web site at the Maryland State Archives. Pratt’s holdings in this database are identified as MDB. Almost all Maryland county newspapers in the Pratt collection can be found in the Library’s Periodicals Department, which maintains a list of Maryland newspapers in the Periodicals Department collection.
The Periodicals Department has the microfilm for the biographies in this list of Maryland and Virginia family histories, written by Emily Emerson Lantz and published in the Baltimore Sun from 1904 to 1908.
Biography, Query and Vertical Files
A researcher should not overlook these files, often referred to as the heart of the Maryland Department collection. They contain hundreds of thousands of cards that will direct the searcher to sources in various formats, both in the Maryland Department and in other departments of the Library.
- Query File contains entries on places, events, institutions, businesses and, in some cases, people -- in short, any subject relating to the State of Maryland.
- Biography File includes references to persons and families only. A biography card may include a citation to an obituary; a brief biography from a newspaper or other source; a citation to an article; a reference to a book about a person or family; or, instruct the researcher to "See VF". VF means Vertical File, which are files that may contain newspaper clippings, articles, pamphlets, maps, brochures, etc. on a person, place, institution, or event.
- Maps can provide valuable clues when tracking ancestors. In Baltimore, nineteenth century street maps are frequently used to identify ward numbers that are necessary in locating census enumerations. County maps show election districts for the same purpose. Maps can assist in showing neighborhoods, businesses and the distance from an address to a place of work or worship. The Maryland Department has Federal Census Enumeration District maps for Maryland from 1830-1920 on microfilm.
- Atlases may take you a step farther. There were a number of these published for many Maryland counties in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In addition to showing election districts, these atlases clearly identify landowners and the approximate boundaries of their property.
- Sanborn Fire Insurance maps are useful to find real estate, a business or an address. These maps are available in the Maryland Department on microfilm or through the Library’s databases and cover volumes produced from 1890 through the early 1980’s for the entire state of Maryland. The pages of the Sanborn map show (at a scale of fifty feet to one inch) characteristics like house numbers, names of businesses and water and sewer lines.
- Maryland Map Collection includes over 2000 maps dating from 1630 to the present.
Maryland Photograph Files
When attempting to find pictures of a place or street, perhaps a person who was notable (i.e., business owner, elected official, socialite, etc.) the Maryland Department photograph files should be consulted. Over 20,000 black-and-white photographs comprise this collection. Most of the images center on the 1930s, but many date back to the early years of the century and a small percentage from after World War II.Not all of the photographs are owned by the Pratt Library; many have been given by local institutions or photographers. Formal reproduction is a service that the Library offers. Check with the librarian to learn more about permission and rights policy.
Requesting Genealogy Research from Maryland Department Staff
This page provides a description of services performed by our staff and the amount of research they will conduct for customers.
Pratt Library Subject Guides have been created by subject specialists to direct users to informative Web sites and bibliographies. These guides are kept current by State Library Resource Center departments and provide useful up-to-date information for users on a variety of topics. Extensive genealogical information will be found in the Biography & Genealogy subject guides and in the Maryland Subject Guides.
The Library subscribes to many useful databases. Databases that are particularly useful for genealogical research include:
- America's Obituaries and Death Notices: Available for use with a Pratt Library card.
- Baltimore Afro-American Historical Newspaper: Full-text of the Afro-American from 1893-1988. Available for use with a Pratt Library card.
- Baltimore Sun Historical Archive: Full-text of The Sun from May 1837- 1985. Available for use with a Pratt Library card.
- Ancestry Library Edition: Available for use at any Pratt Library.
- HeritageQuest: Available to anyone with a valid library card from any public library system in the state of Maryland. Also accessible via Sailor, Maryland’s Public Information Network.
- Proquest Historical Newspapers Online: Includes New York Times (back to 1851), Washington Post (from 1877), Christian Science Monitor (from 1908), Chicago Tribune (from 1847) and Wall Street Journal (from 1889). Available for use with a Pratt Library card.
- Digital Sanborn Maps, 1867-1970: Includes maps for the entire state of Maryland. Available with a Pratt Library card.
Please see the list of databases for other online sources available remotely.
Web sites useful for Maryland genealogical research
How can Maryland Department staff help with my genealogical research?
Maryland Department librarians are familiar with the sources mentioned above and are eager to help the public or other librarians gain access to these materials. As the State Library Resource Center, specialists are available to conduct training in basic genealogy concepts for library systems, organizations, and the public. The staff will be happy to help you or direct you to the appropriate resources in the collection. You may come in anytime the Central Library is open -- no appointment is necessary.
This guide should help you with many resources you will need for researching genealogy in Maryland. If you are interested in more help or have questions, please e-mail us through our Ask-A-Librarian service , call (410) 396-5468, or you can write to us at:
Enoch Pratt Free Library
State Library Resource Center
400 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, MD 21201