Maryland State Archives Website – How Frustrating
Some websites can be confusing and difficult to use, but I don’t expect state archive sites to be that way. Maryland is the exception to that rule. It was the most frustrating state archive site I’ve used, so far.
My task was simple, find out death information on an ancestor of my wife. The Social Security Death Index indicated that he died in December 1964. No specific date and no location other than Maryland. Looking up the specifics should be easy, peasy.
In my list of websites for Maryland I had first, http://www.aomol.net/html/index.html, I thought when I went there, “how odd, a dot net address.” Nothing about death records in their menu. Maybe under other records…. No such luck.
In my list of websites for Maryland I had another URL, http://msa.maryland.gov/ — much better. A bit more modern looking site. “How to order copies” provided a link to a pdf order form. The form wanted month, day and year. Humm. I didn’t have the day. I figured, maybe they have an index. A look at “What We Have” brought me to page that included a link to “Maryland Vital Records.” Again, I thought it odd that the writeup for “Vital Records” only spoke of death records. I was only interested in death records so I was good with that, for now. That link which brought me to “Vital Records Indexing Project” The writeup talked about the indexing project but nowhere in the text of the page was a link to the index. Then I saw it in the menu on the left, “Search MD Vital Records” The page that it brought me to was only death records also. Select County Deaths in two indexes to 1944 and Select Baltimore City deaths 1875 to 1972 in two indexes also. I’m always scared when someone says, “Select” because I always figure that that means it is just some data we put out there, we know it isn’t complete, but it is what we can provide easily. Well, maybe he died in Baltimore and all will be well. A click on “MSA CE 42” brought me to a long death record index. Down the list to 1963-1964. A look at the naming pattern at the three files associated with ’63-64 led me to the second file, G000-M663. Then select a letter – I picked “H”.
OMG – The records are PDFs, each page is an individual file, and it is by soundex. Aarrgh.
I don’t use soundex and I am often frustrated by it. However, some time ago I found Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter. On his website he has a soundex converter. http://www.eogn.com/soundex/ Totally awesome. Just enter the Surname and it provides the Soundex. Entered the name and received back, H-400. Thank you Dick Eastman for the utility!
Back to the website, I’m on page 1 of who knows how many, I click on Page 10, only H200 – sigh, click on page 19, the 28. Almost there, pages 29 & 30 were the right pages for my search. Nope, the ancestor wasn’t there. He must not have died in Baltimore – although I really didn’t know. I hate the word “select.”
Not looking good for the home team. I found the Special Collections site, http://speccol.mdarchives.state.md.us/ – another totally different URL scheme. It indicates photos, newspapers, maps, biographies, and church records. Oh cool, maybe a search for “Archives Building” will yield a photo of the archives for this blog. No such luck. The search yielded 90 photos of people in and around the building, but none of the building itself. Anyway, despite my inability to find a good photo of the building on the site, there was a fuzzy image in the banner of the Photos search page that is usable.
I continued searching for sites and finally found another site. http://guide.mdsa.net/. Maryland State Archives Guide to Government Records. Choose your Display type by Series gave me a very confusing search box. Clearly designed for someone who has intimate knowledge of the agency names and other particulars of Maryland’s government.
Then I clicked on a Reference and Research tab. There was a section on “How to Find Specific Records” and a section of “Indices Found at MSA.” The link for Death Record Indices had the link showing that I had visited it before, however, there was a link for Death Records. That page had a section on “County Death Records 1898-1972.” Maybe…. Most of the records listed had paper or microfilm listings but there were a couple that indicated “Electronic”. There was an Index Series and a Record Series. I tried the Index series SE8. Getting closer. Fairly well organized. In the date range I was looking for and the name letter, I clicked on “Detail” and found nothing that wasn’t on the preceding page. Click “back” and then on “Link.” A PDF file that consisted of thousands of names, one name on a card and a photo copy of it. A search of the document found nothing, it wasn’t a text enable PDF. Scrolling down I finally found the ancestor on page 11,000 something and it had the information I was looking for. The date of his death.
The Maryland State Archives sites were exasperating and inconsistent. Sites don’t link to each other in a simple meaningful way. It is like several different departments put their materials wherever (dot net, dot gov, dot us) they wanted without coordinating with other departments. They also don’t appear to have single style or single content management points.
The bottom line for genealogists is that I believe I have found two pages that I found useful.
REFERENCE & RESEARCH AT THE MARYLAND STATE ARCHIVES http://guide.mdsa.net/viewer.cfm?page=topviewed
Maryland State Archives Guide to Special Collections
I recommend putting them in your browser’s bookmarks for the Maryland State Archives. I’d skip the other ones.
By the way, they have a feedback page at: http://census.mdarchives.state.md.us/msa/homepage/feedback/cfm/dsp_feedback.cfm. I spent quite a while providing feedback that I thought would be meaningful. A click of “submit” yielded an error.
Again, I found the Maryland State Archives site to be the most frustrating State Archive site I’ve ever encountered.
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