200,000 Photographs

Today, the State Archives of Florida reached a major milestone: Resident cataloger Tony Conigliaro officially cataloged the 200,000th digitized photograph from the Florida Photographic Collection on Florida Memory. In commemoration, we are digging into the Archives for a look back at the colorful history of the Florida Photographic Collection. We also interviewed Tony, and he explained more about his role in expanding digital public access to one of the most-used photographic collections in the country.

200,000 Copyright-free Images Online

All photographs available on Florida Memory are now offered under the Public Domain Mark Creative Commons license. Members of the public are encouraged to download and share the digitized archival images, provided they credit the State Archives of Florida. Higher resolution scans or prints of images can be ordered online using the shopping cart feature or by contacting staff at the Florida Photographic Archives via email FloridaMemoryStore@dos.myflorida.com or by phone at 850-245-6718.

About the 200,000th Photograph

For the symbolic 200,000th image, Archives staff selected this print of Harriet Beecher Stowe walking up the steps of Florida’s Old Capitol on April 10th, 1874. Though a copy negative of this photograph has been repeatedly used in publications, the original image was only recently discovered in the State Library. Stowe was an author and abolitionist who wrote the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1851. After the Civil War, Stowe purchased a winter home in Mandarin, Florida, on the east bank of the St. Johns River, now a neighborhood of Jacksonville.

Harriet Beecher Stowe walking up the stairs at Florida’s Old Capitol to greet Governor Marcellus L. Stearns. Governor Stearns is center front and Stowe is the woman in black to the right on the 6th step, April 10, 1874. Photographer A.G. Grant.

In April 1874, Stowe traveled with a group of Northern businessmen to the capital city of Tallahassee to encourage development and investment in Florida. Floridians graciously welcomed Stowe to the capital despite their general disagreement with her political opinions. This meeting on the Capitol steps was meant as a gesture of the South receiving the North. The photograph of the occasion was taken by Irish photographer A. G. Grant, who was hired by a Boston publishing company to capture images of interest for an upcoming publication about Florida.

A closer look at the photograph shows Governor Stearns (left) on the stairs and Stowe (bottom right) walking towards him. Governor Stearns lost his right arm in the Battle of Winchester while fighting for the Union army during the Civil War.

The Florida Photographic Collection

Florida State University, 1952-1982

The Florida Photographic Collection dates back to 1947, when Allen C. Morris, the self-taught historian and well-known Associated Press political columnist and reporter, started writing the Florida Handbook as a reference for the Florida Legislature. The biennial publication, which is still published in a digital format today, contains current information on the history and government of Florida. Tasked with compiling an inviting and educational manual, Morris found himself on a constant quest to illustrate the book with corresponding pictures.

He sought out new images of all types whenever and wherever he could, often using his vast network in journalism, state politics, and industry to make new acquisitions. Within a few years, the collection had exceeded 50,000 photographs.

“The helpfulness of people, both in Florida and elsewhere, has been extremely gratifying,” Morris told the Miami Herald‘s Jeanne Bellamy in 1972. “[Donors] have cooperated to an unusual degree, placing their facilities at our disposal because of the rather general recognition that we are racing against the erosion of time to preserve scenes of lasting human value.”

In an effort to better preserve and organize the many priceless photographs, Morris established the Florida Photographic Collection at the Florida State University Library in 1952. There, Morris, along with other faculty and graduate students, began cataloging the photographs. He soon became known among the press, academic publishers, and the general public as the go-to-resource for printed images of Florida history. The video clip below documents officials from the Florida Development Commission donating promotional films to the archive at FSU in 1964.

Morris continued his oversight of the Florida Photographic Collection throughout the 1960s. In the middle of the decade, his first wife, Dorothy, who was dying of cancer, urged her husband to take a job with the Legislature. She reasoned that a change in careers would ease the longtime journalist’s transition after her death.

In 1966, Allen Morris became clerk of the Florida House of Representatives. That year, he also met graduate student Joan Perry while working in the photographic collection. The couple wed shortly thereafter. Wanting to focus more of his attention on his responsibilities at the Capitol, Morris eventually stepped down from his role at the archives. In 1970, archivist Joan Perry Morris became the director of the Florida Photographic Collection.

Joan and Allen Morris working in the darkroom of the Florida State University Photographic Archives, ca. 1972.

Joan and Allen Morris working in the darkroom at the Florida State University Photographic Archives, ca. 1972.

State Archives of Florida, 1982-Present

During Joan’s tenure, the collection grew to include over one million images of Florida-related people, places, flora, fauna and other items of interest. As the collection continued to grow, Morris sought a new space for the photographs. In 1982, the State Archives of Florida acquired the entirety of the Florida Photographic Collection.

At the state repository, Joan Morris, her photographic assistant Jody Norman and many other archivists on staff continued the work of building and preserving the photographic record of Florida’s history and culture.

The Florida Memory Program, 1994-Present

By the early 1990s, the photo collection had become so popular that requests for copies and scans of photographs accounted for over half of all reference requests at the State Archives. The solution? The internet and its unprecedented ability to provide remote access to information.

In 1993, Joan and her team applied for federal grant funding from the Library Services and Construction Act (now known as the Library Services and Technology Act) and launched the Florida Photographic Collection Electronic Imaging Project in 1994. They developed a plan for digitizing the Florida Photographic Collection and making the photos searchable online. During the digitization project’s first year, over 5,000 images from the Florida Photographic Collection were scanned and put online.

In 2000, the project was renamed the Florida Memory Program, and it has been hailed as one of the state’s best resources for connecting Floridians with their history.

Florida Memory has received several awards in recognition of its public value, including the Society of American Archivists’ 2015 Archival Innovator Award.

As the speed and precision of technology improves, Florida Memory continues to increase access to the historically significant holdings of the State Library and Archives of Florida.

Today, the program keeps an impressive pace, digitizing 100 new photographs each week. And in addition to featuring 200,000 searchable Florida photographs, the website has also expanded to include over 300,000 documents, 250 videos and 2,900 audio recordings, as well as online educational units. Because of Florida Memory’s wide reach, the Florida Photographic Collection receives daily requests from newswires, magazines, interior designers and average citizens from all every corner of the country. They even have a large international customer base.

Our Cataloger Tony on the Ins and Outs of Florida Memory’s Photographs

The ability to quickly search through our online catalog of images is a huge time saver, especially compared to the tedium of thumbing through a traditional card catalog. But, real-life archivists like Tony Conigliaro are usually sitting on the other side of the screen, researching, fact-checking, and cataloging images to optimize your search results on Florida Memory. Here’s what he has to say about how it all happens:

  1.   How long have you been working as a cataloger for the State Archives?

[About twenty years.] I started work as a part-time scanner in 1997 until I became a cataloger in 1999.

  1. What is your academic background? How and why did you first become interested in cataloging work?

I have a master’s in library and information science from Florida State University. I think my interest in archives [grew] over time. I’ve always liked libraries since my youth (they’re so quiet and clean!) and I enjoyed scanning images and learning Photoshop.

But when I began cataloging I thought of myself as kind of an information conduit/provider and more data-entry librarian than archivist. I’ve never done any collection/preservation work but appreciate the fact that these historical items are being made more readily available for researchers and the general public.

I suppose [that as my] appreciation grew, my interest in archival work and the great efforts of archives staff also grew. I’ve heard a few times of patrons who have come across an image, of an ancestor, they never knew existed which just makes my appreciation and interest grow all the more!

Tony Conigliaro in the process of cataloging Florida Memory’s 200,000th photograph, April 24, 2017.

  1. What steps are involved in cataloging a photo on Florida Memory?

It’s really just a matter of filling in each field with appropriate data and adding additional fields when needed or subtracting fields if there are too many. For instance, every record should have data in the fields for “Title” & “Date”, and they do, but each record ought to have data in the “Subject” field to describe what the photo is about and provide keywords, based on a controlled vocabulary list provided by the Library of Congress (or other authorized source), for users to retrieve the digitized image.

  1. How do you identify people and places in photographs?

Fortunately the overwhelming majority are identified by donors. [O]thers are just from familiarity — once Jody [my former boss] was weeding through some political images and held one up to ask me who it was, I looked over and said “Dewey Macon Johnson,” who was State Senate President in 1959.

Senate President Dewey Macon Johnson, ca. 1959.

Florida Senate President Dewey Macon Johnson, ca. 1959.

[Sometimes]  I’ll also grab the loupe (a small magnification device) to look for clues, like road signs, store signs, or any other identifying information. Then I scour the internet, check out the city directories, newspaper microfilm or other library resources. The loupe also helps [to determine] the date of the image as well, especially if it shows an automobile as I can find out the date it was first manufactured. I also make extensive use of the expertise of the smart people around me!

  1.       How many photographs do you think you’ve cataloged for Florida Memory?

I think I have scanned about 88,000 photos. I’ve never done less than 5,000 per year since 2001.

  1.       What is the biggest challenge of your job? What do you like most about your job?

The most challenging aspect is researching images with a lack of accompanying identifications or cryptic/incomplete info. These sometimes also happen to be the most fun.

I suppose I find getting answers to be the most satisfying. Fitting in pieces of information like a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes just tracking down the make and model of a car to pinpoint the earliest start date of an image, other times locating a store’s sign in the city directory to pinpoint the street location. I like getting the answers most and being able to provide that information to interested users.

  1.      What is your favorite photograph in the collection, and why?

[That’s]  like asking me to pick my favorite kid – no way! I have a bit of fondness for Political, specifically 1950s, as that’s where I began and was trained. They’re real concrete with bios and dates and over the years some of the faces have become somewhat familiar. Some of the humorous/odd photographs are interesting: C660217Rc04621 (diner title), C003016 (not where I’d want to find myself!) The Tampa skyline and aerial shots I think are attractive. Appears to be a good looking city. The Dale McDonald collection – it’s the first collection that I’ve been the sole cataloger of so it’s kind of special to me and he was a great photographer. Festivalsparades come to mind as they seem to be held just about everywhere in the state so they kind of include something for everyone which I find to be rather special.

  1.       Why do you think the photographs in the Florida Photographic Collection are so significant? In your opinion, what are the benefits of digitizing so many of them on a website like Florida Memory?

They are unique, irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind treasures documenting historical facts! I don’t think I can even fathom all the ways they may be able to touch or affect users if given a chance.

I believe digitization improves accessibility immensely and each image can present a new perspective and provide additional information for users. I don’t think there can ever be enough digitized photographs.

For more information about Stowe’s visit to Tallahassee see Harriet Beecher Stowe, “Stowe’s Visit to Planter Florida,” in Calling Yankees to Florida: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Forgotten Tourist Articles, ed. John T. Foster Jr. and Sarah Whitmer Foster (Cocoa, Florida: The Florida Historical Society Press, 2011), 85-91.

Give the Gift of History

This holiday season you can give the gift of history to your loved ones with a print from the State Archives of Florida. We have something for everyone: film lovers, history buffsmusic enthusiasts and more.

For your cartographically inclined friends and relatives, the recently digitized Florida Maps Collection from the State Library of Florida has almost 300 maps that date from the 16th century to the present.

Map mantle

After purchasing a print from Florida Memory, you can have it custom framed at a shop in your community. (Please note: Florida Memory does not provide matting or framing services.)

Order by December 9th to guarantee delivery in time for Christmas.

Use the online shopping cart to order prints and high-resolution scans of photographs and maps. Audio recordings and videos can be ordered by email, phone or mail. Happy shopping!

A Visit from the Past

Every October, archives across the United States celebrate Archives Month. This year, the State Archives of Florida is focusing on how archives change lives. Join us throughout the month as we share stories about the impact the Archives has had on staff and patrons like you!

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

As archivists working with the Florida Photographic Collection, we often receive phone calls and emails from patrons looking for specific images. Sometimes photos are acquired for news articles or academic publications, but other times pure curiosity fuels their inquiries. Whatever the case, we archivists become detectives for the public. The research process can be tedious and frustrating, but it can also be quite exciting and rewarding—especially when we are able to uncover surprising material for our patrons.

A few months ago, we received a question from patron Katie Godwin. Her family has an old portrait from 1951 of her late grandmother Mary Lou Bisplingoff. At the time, Bisplingoff, who had not yet married, was on the edge of twenty and a student at Florida State University. While Katie was replacing the broken glass of the framed picture of her “Nana,” she discovered something interesting about the photo: “When I took the frame apart to install the new glass, I found two surprises: one was a baby picture of my mother. The other was that the picture we had admired for so long was actually an ‘unfinished proof.’ A stamp on the back said the picture had been made at L’Avant Studios.”

With a sense of mystery, Katie began her quest. This is her story:

“You don’t get new pictures of people once they’re gone.”

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

While the new glass was being cut for the frame, I searched online and found that L’Avant had been a prominent studio in Tallahassee for decades. The studio closed in the 1980s and donated their inventory to the State Archives of Florida. I began to get excited. I hoped that I could find the original version of this beloved picture and get a clearer, brighter copy to share with my family.
The next morning I called the Archives and asked about the photograph. I was referred to Photographic Archivist Adam Watson, who knew the collection well. At his request, I sent a copy of the image and the stamp on the back, as well as an approximate date for the photograph. As promised, I heard back within just a few days; however, I was only partially prepared for the response. The image I was searching for was not there, but Adam found eight other pictures of Nana. Upon seeing the photos, I recognized only one of them. The rest were entirely new to me and my family. Nana has been gone for two years now. You don’t get new pictures of people once they’re gone. It was surreal. These pictures were taken just before she turned twenty, over sixty years ago!

“Seeing and holding the photos felt like having a visit from Nana.”

Initially I thought I would print all of the pictures and surprise my mother with them for her birthday, but I couldn’t keep something this big to myself. Instead, I immediately told her over the phone and then sent the proofs to her. I also texted the photos to my sisters. It was all so out of the blue and unexpected. As for my grandfather, who struggles the most with losing Nana, we decided to wait to tell him until we had the prints. I worked with Jackie Attaway to purchase high resolution digital scans of all eight images and then had them printed at a local print shop.

Mary Lou Bisplighoff, 1951

Mary Lou Bisplighoff, 1951

“…they gave us a glimpse of who she was before we knew her.”

Seeing and holding the photos felt like having a visit from Nana. My Mom noticed that in one picture you could see Nana’s resemblance to her father’s side of the family. Another was my favorite because I thought you could see the glint in her eye and the sparkle she was trying to contain. In one of the photos, we noticed that her shoes were almost the same as the shoes my sister wears now; and in some you could see the shadow of a huge lamp that made the whole scene look like something from the movies. All of the photos were glamorous, and they gave us a glimpse of who she was before we knew her. My grandfather could hardly speak when he saw them.  They were bittersweet for him, but he has told me several times how much he loves the pictures and how he took them around to his friends in town, showing her off. I had no idea that the State Archives could hold such a treasure for our family. Working with Adam and Jackie was pleasant, easy, and more rewarding than I could have imagined.

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

At the State Archives we use our institutional knowledge, tenderness, and care when assisting patrons like Katie. Each day we have the privilege of being the custodians of a vast and wonderful collection of historic treasures. Katie’s story is an example of how a little archival research can allow patrons to connect with history on a personal level. As archivists, those are the most rewarding days for us.

What will you find in the Archives? This October, join us in celebrating Archives Month by exploring the Archives yourself. You can search for pictures of your family members on the Florida Photographic Collection, then further your research in person at the State Archives. In addition, the Photographic Collection provides high resolution scans and prints to the public for a nominal fee. Did Katie’s story inspire your own family research? Let us know in the comments section below!

Share Your Digital Photos: Hurricane Matthew

Hurricanes NamesNow that Matthew has passed, it will be remembered alongside Camille, Andrew, and Charley as one of many hurricanes that have shaped Florida’s history. Help the State Archives preserve that history by donating your digital images of damage, flooding, and other effects of this event. To learn more about donations, please see below.

What are the digital photograph specifications?

  • File Format: TIFF, JPEG, RAW
  • Megapixel: Minimum 5MP

Can I donate photographs taken with my phone?

Probably. The camera on your mobile device may produce images of a high enough quality to meet our minimum requirements. Most modern devices, including iPhones (4 and newer), iPads (3 and newer), and many Android devices by Samsung, Motorola and Sony take photographs at a minimum resolution of 5 megapixels. Check your phone’s specifications to verify that it provides the appropriate quality for images

Will my photos be put on Florida Memory?

It is possible, but not all photographs donated to the State Archives appear on Florida Memory.

How do I donate my digital photographs?

Donors are asked to sign a Deed of Gift (PDF, 2 pages) transferring to the State Archives legal custody of the records and any copyright interests they hold in the records, thus allowing the Archives to make the records fully accessible to the public for historical research. Send all photos, along with the deed of gift, as attachments to the Archives by email at archives@dos.myflorida.com.

In Memoriam

Joan Lee Perry Morris, longtime curator of the Florida Photographic Collection, died April 21, 2016 at the age of 81. For over half a century, Joan and her husband Allen dedicated their lives to the study of Florida history, writing books and accumulating a rich trove of historic images to share with the public.

Portrait of Joan Morris (1966).

Portrait of Joan Morris (1966).

Born March 11, 1935, Joan grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida. In 1966, she married Allen Covington Morris, who at that time was serving as Clerk of the Florida House of Representatives. The couple shared a mutual passion for Florida history, which inspired their collaboration on a variety of books and projects over the years, including biennial editions of the Florida Handbook, which Allen had begun compiling in 1947.

Joan and Allen Morris posing for one of their historically-themed Christmas cards (circa 1970s).

Joan and Allen Morris posing for one of their historically-themed Christmas cards (circa 1970s).

Joan was best known for her work with the Florida Photographic Collection, which Allen originally established in 1952 with images he had collected over the years for the Florida Handbook. Joan took over as curator and photographic archivist in 1971 to allow Allen to focus on his responsibilities at the Capitol. The collection flourished under Joan’s leadership, expanding to over a million historic images during her tenure.

Allen and Joan accumulated photographs from many sources. The majority were donated, although some of the most valuable images were saved from destruction by Joan herself. At one point, for example, an employee at the Tallahassee Democrat was in the process of discarding thousands of photographic negatives from the paper’s archives when Joan stepped in and offered to take them. These images are now available as the Tallahassee Democrat photo collection on Florida Memory.

Joan and Allen Morris in the darkroom of the Florida Photographic Collection when it was still housed at Robert Manning Strozier Library on the campus of Florida State University. The collection was relocated to the State Archives of Florida in 1982 (photo 1972).

Joan and Allen Morris in the darkroom of the Florida Photographic Collection when it was still housed at Robert Manning Strozier Library on the campus of Florida State University. The collection was relocated to the State Archives of Florida in 1982 (photo 1972).

But Joan did more than just collect and preserve photographs. She shared her knowledge with countless authors, journalists, and other individuals from all over the world who visited the State Archives to find images to illustrate their work. She took great pride in helping each patron find the very best photographs for their projects, a service warmly acknowledged in hundreds of publications.

Joan Morris attending a slideshow event at the State Archives of Florida (circa 2013).

Joan Morris attending a slideshow event at the State Archives of Florida (circa 2013).

Joan remained curator of the Florida Photographic Collection until her retirement in 2003, although she continued to work as a volunteer for several years afterward. The vast collection of photographs she and Allen assembled over a lifetime continues to be a source of knowledge and enjoyment for Floridians and countless others – a real public treasure. The State Archives is deeply indebted to Joan for her years of public service and her dedication to preserving Florida’s photographic past.