Newsletter of
The Maryland State Archives
Vol. 16, No. 13
July 8, 2002
(excerpts from speech of Edward C.  Papenfuse, Jr., before the Maryland Municipal League)

Knowing your Municipal history can be helpful to a community in a number of ways. It can be used to strengthen a sense of citizen involvement and participation through celebrating important milestones in the community's development and through an understanding of the community's origins and progress since its inception. It can assist in planning and in attracting business, as well as helping to highlight historic sites that bring tourists and improve real estate values. It can even be helpful in documenting any previous mistakes that the community may have made, so that they can be prevented in the future. 

The first step in preserving the history of a community is to inventory its historical resources, ranging from historic structures (which in turn can benefit their owners with tax incentives for their preservation) to any informational resources that help document community history. These include official public records, private papers, oral history projects, public and private collections of photographs, and public sources of information such as previously published local histories, and newspapers among which the local or regional papers are invaluable if they have been preserved. 

Every community should have at least one archivist/records administrator who has training in history and historical resource management and a working knowledge of the internet. If one is not available on staff or as a volunteer, I would strongly urge hiring someone from one of the many fine public history companies that advertise on the web. 

The Archivist/records administrator's first task is to become familiar with the laws governing the care and preservation of public records in Maryland, and to document an outline of the legal history of the community, preferably on a publicly available web site that is itself periodically copied into a permanent electronic archives. Use the web site to maintain a constantly updated and improved guide to the history of the community and to provide access to any on line history or histories as they are written.

To a large extent, how well a community's public records have been kept will govern how good a history can be written. Under current Maryland law, all public records must be examined and scheduled before they are disposed of in any manner. The rules governing the scheduling of public records for retention and disposal are available on the Archives' web site. 

There are 157 incorporated municipalities in Maryland (counting Baltimore City), of which two thirds were created before 1900. By 1996, 14.4% of the population of Maryland resided in municipalities (exclusive of Baltimore City), with Rockville and Frederick vying for first and second place as the largest (slightly over 46,000 each) and Eagle Harbor in Prince George's County the smallest with a population of 39. Six years ago the average size was 4,688, while a total of 62 municipalities had fewer than 1,000 residents. Sadly, we have records and retention schedules for only 25, although those include the four largest jurisdictions, Rockville, Frederick, Hagerstown, and Annapolis.  I can't stress enough how important it is to inventory and keep track of the public records of the town. We recently were contacted by one community
whose history dates back to before the Civil War. Through neglect of previous public officials they

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have lost their town minutes books from the beginning until 1930.

The chair of this session leads a municipality that has turned to its history to pursue its goal of an African American History Museum in North Brentwood, including 20,000 square feet of museum space; 200-seat black box theatre, and alternative gallery space for traveling exhibits, in all a $14.6 million investment. In addition, through the North Brentwood Historical Society, they have secured funding from the Maryland Historical Trust in the amount of $15,000 for the second phase of their oral history of the community. In their quest for a better understanding of their past, they have had the valuable assistance of  Susan Pearl, research historian with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, and a former resident, Frank H. Wilson, associate professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. 

North Brentwood is to be commended on such a superb beginning to their documentation of the history of their community. By following up on inventorying their municipal records and scheduling them for permanent retention in a setting of their choice (possibly the new museum?), along with finding a permanent home for Susan Pearl's and Professor Wilson's research files, and any other private papers and photographs bearing on the history of the community, North Brentwood's place in the history of Maryland will be not only be secure but a model for other municipalities around the state. 

The oldest extant municipality in Maryland is Annapolis, the capital, founded in 1694 and chartered by Queen Anne in 1708.  Over the years, the surviving town records have been carefully inventoried and retired to the State Archives, making their historical records one of the best municipal collections in any state, comprising

over half of all the municipal records in our collections.

From the proceedings of the Annapolis city council dating from 1720, the original bylaws and ordinances dating from 1779, city commission reports from 1843, and the mayor's case files from the 1950s, a wealth of information lies at the fingertips of  anyone wishing to more completely uncover the secrets of  life in Annapolis over the past 350 years. 

Take time to let us help with preserving your history. All of us want to know your stories-- the stories of the individuals who have lived and worked in your towns--you, your parents and your grandparents. The Maryland State Archives was created as the Hall of Records in 1935, only one year before the founding of the Maryland Municipal League. As an independent state agency, the Archives is charged not only with the collection, custody, and preservation of state records and documents of permanent value, but also of county and municipal files not currently in use. Where local facilities are poor, centralization of town and municipal records in a state repository is a practical solution to preserving local documents no longer useful for administrative purposes but rich in the history of the community. When local resources do not permit securing the services of an Archivist/Records Administrator, let us help in establishing standards and systems of archival care for your records. Records deemed of permanent value may be transferred to the State Archives as determined by established retention schedules approved by the state archivist. We will gladly take on this legally mandated responsibility or share it with you to the degree that our resources permit. Of the 157 municipal governments in Maryland, we have yet to establish records retention and disposal schedules for 132. Most recently, we have worked with Annapolis (2000), Ocean City (2000), Taneytown (2001), and Frederick (2001-2002). Encourage your municipalities to do likewise. 

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Rosenthal, Alan. Strengthening the Maryland 
    Legislature: An Eagleton Study and Report 
Rothenberg, Jeff. Avoiding Technological Quicksand: 
    Finding a Viable Technical Foundation for Digital 
Russo, Jean B. Question of Reputation: William Paca's 
    Courtship of Polly Tilghman 
Rutkowski, William F. We Regret to Inform You: The 
    Stories of Twelve Former Prisoners of War 
Schmeckebier, Laurence Frederick. History of the 
    Know Nothing Party in Maryland 
Sipple, William S. Days Afield: Exploring Wetlands in 
    the Chesapeake Bay Region 
Skinner, Vernon L., Jr. and F. Edward Wright. Colonial 
    Families of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, vol. 10