Transcribing and Inventorying the Records of Baltimore City, 1905-1940

Research in the records of the Public History of Baltimore for the period prior to the late 1930s should begin with the archival efforts of the Works Progress Administration, and the previous transcription/collation publications of the City Librarian, Wilbur Coyle.

In order to combat unemployment during the depression of 1929-1941, the Federal government, through the Works Progress Administration, Historical Records Survey, hired more people to be archivists and catalogers of America’s record heritage than at any other time in the history of the United States including the present. For a discussion of the Maryland project which produced two pioneering archivists and local historians, Dr. Morris L. Radoff, an unemployed assistant professor of Romance Languages who would later become Maryland’s second State Archivist, and Dr. Carl Everstine , an unemployed Johns Hopkins Phd who later would head Legislative Reference for Baltimore and the State of Maryland, see: Edward C. Papenfuse, “A Modicum of Commitment: The Present and Future Importance of the Historical Records Survey.” The American Archivist, April 1974. The Baltimore City Historical Records Survey chronologically arranged and inventoried all the surviving public records it could find relating to the City, resuming the work begun and published between 1905 and 1909 by Wilbur F. Coyle, the City Librarian.

As the 1984 …. Guide to the Baltimore City Archives , edited by William G. LeFurgy, pointed out:

In 1874, the municipality made a significant move toward better record keeping practices by establishing a city library. This office had, among other duties, responsibility for maintenance and preservation of the city’s records. While little was accomplished during the library’s first few years, it had by the 1890s done some limited collecting of material judged to be of historical value. The work of the library reached a zenith in 1903 when Wilbur F. Coyle assumed the post of librarian. Coyle gathered historical records, arranged and indexed them, and published a collection of significant eighteenth and nineteenth century documents. His resignation in 1920, however, effectively ended this kind of work. (p. 7)

Between 1905 and 1909, Wilbur Coyle published five volumes of records relating to Baltimore City, the originals of which were then in the custody of the City Library. Four of those volumes are currently on line at as scans by Microsoft. The fifth volume is available on Google Books. Generally the quality of the scanning is better on Google Books which means that the indexing is better. The printed transcriptions as edited by Wilbur Coyle with links to indexed pdfs and the on-line versions, are as follows:

  1. Coyle: 1729-1797 (1905) First Records of Baltimore Town
    First records of Baltimore Town and Jones’ Town.
    Baltimore, 1905. (note: the online version does not include the three maps that were included as an appendix to the volume.) The searchable pdf hyperlinked above is derived from Coyle: 1729-1797 (1905) First Records of Baltimore Town
  2. Coyle: 1797-1813 (1906) Records of the city of Baltimore (City commissioners)
    Records of the City of Baltimore (City Commissioners) 1797-1813
    . Baltimore : City library, 1906. The searchable pdf linked above is derived from Coyle: 1797-1813 (1906) Records of the city of Baltimore (City commissioners)
  3. Coyle: 1729-1813 (1909) Supplement
    Records of the city of Baltimore 1729-1813
    . Supplement. List of levels and establishments. Extracts of minutes of City commissioners . Issued by Wilbur F. Coyle, city librarian. Baltimore : Press of Meyer & Thalheimer, 1909. Searchable pdf cited above is derived from: Coyle: 1729-1813 (1909) Supplement
  4. Coyle: 1782-1797 (1909) Records of the City of Baltimore (Special Commissioners) 1782 to 1797
    Records of the City of Baltimore (Special Commissioners) 1782 to 1797
    . / Issued by Wilber F. Coyle, city librarian. Baltimore : Press of Meyer & Thalheimer, 1909. Searchable pdf cited above is derived from: Coyle: 1782-1797 (1909) Records of the City of Baltimore (Special Commissioners) 1782 to 1797
  5. Coyle: 1810-1817 (1909) “Records of the city of Baltimore. Eastern precincts commissioners. 1812-1817
    Records of the city of Baltimore. Eastern Precincts Commissioners, 1810-1817. Western Precincts Commissioners, 1810-1817
    . Issued by Wilbur F. Coyle, city librarian. Baltimore : Press of King Bros., 1909. Searchable pdf cited above is derived from: Coyle: 1810-1817 (1909) “Records of the city of Baltimore. Eastern precincts commissioners. 1812-1817

While the LeFurgy Guide does not correlate the volumes published by Wilbur Coyle with the reorganization of the City Records into record groups, the originals of the transcripts published by Coyle, as they survived to 1984, are encompassed in Record Groups BRG1 , BRG2 , and BRG3.

When the WPA/HRS resumed the archival efforts of Wilbur Coyle, all the loose papers that could be found were sorted as much as possible by date, and numbered sequentially within years. Typescript inventories, a subject card index, and name index  to the typescripts were produced. In the early 1980s the Baltimore City Archives, with financial support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, reorganized the papers, originally sorted and indexed by the WPA/Historical Records Survey, into record groups, removing the papers from the chronological series created by the WPA and placing them in archival boxes and folders according to assigned record group numbers, retaining their WPA year/sequence number. For the record groups to which papers were assigned and reboxed see WPA-HRS Record Groups, Baltimore City Archives, 1982. For the electronic version of the inventories, see the Maryland State Archives CE number below. For a general overview of the Record Groups of the Baltimore City Archives, see William G. LeFurgy, ed., The Records of a City: A Guide to the Baltimore City Archives, 1984.

The subject card index to the WPA inventories , while apparently losing some cards in the interim between its creation and its filming in the 1980s, is a good place to begin looking for topics (as they were thought of in the late 1930s) relating to the public history of Baltimore.   There will also be an on-line name index to the WPA Inventories by the summer of 2011 derived from one compiled by the WPA, but with both the name and subject indexes to the WPA inventories listed below, researchers are cautioned that they should also carefully review the typed inventories that are arranged chronologically:

The typescript inventories of Baltimore City Records prepared by the Historical Records Survey are to be found in the Maryland State Archives Guide to Government Records, MSA CE 40, and in the original at the Baltimore City Archives.

  • Dates: 1756-1827 Description: 1 MSA CE 40-1 Accession No.: 19,499 MSA No.: C 171-1 Location: 2/16/7/59
  • Dates: 1828-1838 Description: 2 MSA CE 40-2 Accession No.: 19,500 MSA No.: C 171-2 Location: 2/16/7/60
  • Dates: 1839-1849 Description: 3 MSA CE 40-3 Accession No.: 19,501 MSA No.: C 171-3 Location: 2/16/7/60
  • Dates: 1850-1860 Description: 4 MSA CE 40-4 Accession No.: 19,502 MSA No.: C 171-4 Location: 2/16/7/61
  • Dates: 1861-1864 Description: 5 MSA CE 40-5 Accession No.: 19,503 MSA No.: C 171-5 Location: 2/16/7/61
  • Dates: 1865-1870 Description: 6 MSA CE 40-6 Accession No.: 19,504 MSA No.: C 171-6 Location: 2/16/7/62
  • Dates: 1871-1876 Description: 7 MSA CE 40-7 Accession No.: 19,505 MSA No.: C 171-7 Location: 2/16/7/62
  • Dates: 1877-1883 Description: 8 MSA CE 40-8 Accession No.: 19,506 MSA No.: C 171-8 Location: 2/16/7/63
  • Dates: 1884-1899 Description: 9 MSA CE 40-9 Accession No.: 19,507 MSA No.: C 171-9 Location: 2/16/7/63
  • Dates: 1900-1909 Description: 10 MSA CE 40-10 Accession No.: 19,508 MSA No.: C 171-10 Location: 2/16/7/64
  • Dates: 1910-1938 Description: 11 MSA CE 40-11 Accession No.: 19,509 MSA No.: C 171-11 Location: 2/16/7/64

In order to request documents found in the indices and inventories of the late 1930′s Historical Records Survey of Baltimore City Records, the year/HRS reference number of a document must be converted to its current location in a Record Group series, utilizing the conversion table: WPA-HRS Record Groups, Baltimore City Archives, 1982.  Examples of how to do this using the subject index cards is to be found in the Topic section of this web site.

The original paper series from the record groups, and record group series unique to microfilm, are in the process of being scanned and compiled into ebooks for editing and transcription. They include the following topics:

1) Care of the Poor and Indigent, BRG19 (Health Department)

Another example of editonline scans are volumes found only on microfilm (the originals appear to be missing) taken from BRG 19, Health Department Records, series 3 ,
bca_m0397 (Trustees of the Poor and successor agency Minutes, 1833-1879; BRG.19, S.3)
bca_m0398 (Trustees of the Poor and successor agency Minutes, 1879-1935; BRG.19, S.3)

Another example of editonline scans is a sample of folders of original papers taken from the WPA/HRS arrangment and placed in RG 19, series 1-179. The sample consists of three folders of papers inventoried by the WPA/HRS as 1819-179 (see: MSA CE40-1, image 319 ) with a single index entry for 1819-179-Miscellaneous bills, (coffins, burying dead, quarantine,etc). All are apparently related at least in part to the Yellow Fever epidemic, and amount to 144 images, folder labels included.

2) War of 1812 records, BRG22
An example of a Record Group that has been imaged from the original paper for editing and transcription purposes utilizing an online editing program is Record Group 22 of the Baltimore City Archives.
This ebook edition of the War of 1812 records of the Baltimore City Archives was compiled and is currently being edited by Ed Papenfuse, the Maryland State Archivist, Retired, who can be contacted at
To view enlargements of the images, a current version of Adobe pdf viewer or an open source viewer such as Sumatra, is required.
You can proceed from here to the first folder: Folder 1 of Series 1.

There are 3475 images associated with this electronic book.

This web site is presented for reference purposes under the doctrine of fair use. When this material is used, in whole or in part, proper citation and credit must be attributed to the Maryland State Archives. PLEASE NOTE: The site may contain material from other sources which may be under copyright. Rights assessment, and full originating source citation, is the responsibility of the user.

Tell Us What You Think About the Baltimore City Archives Website!

[ Archives' Home Page ||  Maryland Manual Online  ||  Reference & Research
||  Search the Archives   ||  Education & Outreach  ||  Archives of Maryland Online ]

Governor     General Assembly    Judiciary