Archives Month 2016

Happy American Archives Month! Every October, the State Archives of Florida joins with archives throughout the country to participate in a month-long dialogue about what an archive is, who archivists are, and why it matters to the average American citizen. Archivists are a passionate group of professionals dedicated to the faithful preservation of the historical documents that make up state, local, and national histories. Some of the stories living within these records can have far-reaching impacts on the modern people looking at them, and an archivist’s work is driven by the responsibility to provide public access to these potentially life-changing materials. Throughout Archives Month we will be sharing some of our best life-changing stories from the State Archives of Florida vault. But, in order for archived records to change lives they, too, must have a physical repository to call home. With that in mind, we’re starting off Archives Month 2016 with a brief history of how the State Archives of Florida came into existence and why it matters.

History of the State Archives of Florida

The State Archives of Florida as it exists now did not open until 1969, but several Floridians with a passion for preserving state history were at work for much longer. Early on in Florida’s statehood, the Secretary of State was charged with maintaining Florida’s historical records. However, not until the State Library of Florida opened in 1925 did any meaningful preservation begin. Prior to this, original state documents had no official home, and lived in moldy basements, hot attics, and other scattered locations inhospitable to long term preservation.

In the early 20th century, Caroline Mays Brevard, Florida historian and educator, emerged as one of the earliest advocates for the establishment of a “hall of history” for the state documents. In an era before women could vote, Brevard appealed to Florida’s lawmakers for an official state repository to collect and maintain Florida’s historical records.

Caroline Brevard's written appeal for a state repository of Florida's historical documents. Ca. 1900.

Caroline Brevard’s written appeal for a state repository of Florida’s historical documents, ca. 1900.

“We should no longer delay to make provision for the care and preservation of our archives…. Such a hall would be the headquarters for all historical activities in the state, and here thousands of our people would find information. State pride would be strengthened, for patriotism would know its reason for being,” urged Brevard.

Though Caroline Brevard died in 1920, five years before the establishment of a functional state library, her advocacy certainly contributed to the appointment of the first State Librarian, W.T. Cash , in 1927 and the first State Archivist, Dr. Dorothy Dodd, in 1941. After Cash’s death in 1951, Dodd succeeded him as State Librarian.

Portrait of the first State Archivist and the second State Librarian, Dr. Dorothy Dodd. Dodd graduated from Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee before earning her PhD in history from the the University of Chicago.

Portrait of the first State Archivist and the second State Librarian, Dr. Dorothy Dodd. Dodd graduated from Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee before earning her PhD in history from the University of Chicago.

Until the State Archives opened as its own entity in 1969, the State Library assumed archival functions, and was responsible for collecting and storing archival materials. During her tenure as State Archivist, Dorothy Dodd traveled the state in search of significant Florida-related historical records and manuscripts. She later recounting how she “started [the State Library’s Florida Collection] with the idea that anything that had to do with Florida had a place in th[e] collection.” By the time she retired in 1965, Dr. Dodd had collected 260 linear feet of territorial and state papers, and it is these items that formed the original core of the State Archives of Florida’s holdings.

A view of the State Library’s storage area in the basement of the Old Capitol in 1947. Before the Department of State built a designated repository in the 1970s, the library’s collections were kept on different floors and wings of the capitol. Though archival best practices were not well-established at the time of this photograph, modern professional archivists follow a strict set of guidelines to ensure the longevity of their collections. Because of moisture’s deteriorative impact on paper, damp basements are not considered acceptable library and archive storage spaces. Modern archival best practices recommend a climate controlled setting for the preservation of historical records.

A view of the State Library’s storage area in the basement of the Old Capitol in 1947. Before the Department of State built a designated repository in the 1970s, the library’s collections were kept on different floors and wings of the capitol. Though archival best practices were not well-established at the time of this photograph, modern professional archivists follow a strict set of guidelines to ensure the longevity of their collections. Because of moisture’s destructive impact on paper, damp basements are not considered acceptable library and archive storage spaces. Modern archival best practices recommend a climate controlled setting for the preservation of historical records.

When the State Archives of Florida first opened in 1969, it was located at the old Leon County Jail in Tallahassee. In 1976, the state constructed the R.A. Gray Building on 500 S. Bronough Street in the heart of Florida’s capital city. Since then, the R.A. Gray building has been the site of the State Archives as well as the Museum of Florida History and the State Library.

When the State Archives of Florida first opened in 1969, it was located at the old Leon County Jail in Tallahassee. In 1976, the state constructed the R.A. Gray Building at 500 S. Bronough Street in the heart of Florida’s capital city. Since then, the R.A. Gray Building has been the site of the State Archives as well as the Museum of Florida History and the State Library.

Italian cartographer Baptista Boazio’s original engraved, hand-colored map of Sir Francis Drake’s 1586 siege of St.Augustine is the oldest collection item currently held by the State Archives of Florida, and is the earliest known visual depiction of a European settlement in what is now the United States. In 1982 the State Archives acquired Boazio’s map of St. Augustine from the private collection of longtime Florida judge and historian, James R. Knott. Aware of the map’s historical significance, Knott wanted to transfer the map to the people of Florida and trusted the Archives to carry out that vision. Without a functional State Archives, though, the Boazio map, along with many other priceless records of Florida’s history, might still be sitting in private collections only available to a handful of people.

Italian cartographer Baptista Boazio’s original engraved, hand-colored map of Sir Francis Drake’s 1586 attack on St. Augustine is the oldest single item currently held by the State Archives of Florida. Additionally, it is the earliest known visual depiction of a European settlement in what is now the United States. In 1982 the State Archives acquired Boazio’s map of St. Augustine from the private collection of longtime Florida judge and historian, James R. Knott. Aware of the map’s historical significance, Knott wanted to transfer the map to the people of Florida and trusted the Archives to carry out that vision. Without a functional State Archives, though, the Boazio map, along with many other priceless records of Florida’s history, might still be sitting in private collections only available to a handful of people.

Why Celebrate Archives?

For over four decades, the State Archives of Florida has served Floridians with access to the records of their state.  Specifically, the State Archives is statutorily mandated to “collect, preserve, and maintain the significant official records of state government and to inform the public about the existence and location of these records.” Additionally, the Archives is also permitted to collect, preserve, and maintain historic local government records, manuscripts, photographs, maps, plans, and other evidence of past activities in Florida.

View of the climate-controlled stacks at the State Archives of Florida.

View of the climate-controlled stacks at the State Archives of Florida.

The State Archives of Florida now holds approximately 50,000 cubic feet of archival records.  A staff of professional archivists is responsible for the continued acquisition and processing of archival records,the maintenance of existing records, and making them available for public access.

Collections Management Archvist, Tyeler McLean. Before a patron can make use of an archival collection, an archivist must arrange and describe the materials first.

Collections Management Archivist, Tyeler McLean, processes a newly acquired collection. Often when the Archives acquires a new collection, it arrives in a disorganized condition.  Before researchers can make use of a collection’s contents, an archivist must arrange and describe the materials first.

In reflecting on why archives should be celebrated, seasoned archivist Elisabeth Golding opined:

Why celebrate? Because American archives, and Florida archives, preserve and protect the foundations of our freedoms. Archives collect the records that make transparent government possible and preserve evidence of civil and property rights. We can cite a state or federal Constitution in defending our rights as citizens because archives preserve the integrity and authenticity of those original documents. We can hold government agencies accountable because archives preserve the original laws that set forth those agencies’ responsibilities and limitations and the budgets that show how those agencies spent taxpayer dollars.

But that’s not all we celebrate. Archives serve as the recorded memory of a community, a state, a nation, a society. Every day, students, teachers, historians, journalists, attorneys, and members of the public use records from the State Archives and other archival repositories to search their family history, study the development of communities and transportation networks, analyze legislative intent, trace land ownership and use, find resources for History Day projects, and find information about the actions and decisions of elected and appointed government officials.

If you live in the Tallahassee area, celebrate Archives Month with us at our special after-hours Archives Month events throughout the month of October.

It’s in the Directory

Remember back before the Internet when you needed the “phone book” to find a phone number or address for a person or business? These days, we tend to use printed directories for booster seats and doorstops more than for their intended purpose, but these volumes do have a critical role to play as a historical resource. Especially the older ones.

A few of the printed city directories available at the State Library of Florida - others are available on microfilm or through online databases like Ancestry.com.

A few of the published city directories available at the State Library of Florida – others are available on microfilm or through online databases like Ancestry.com.

For many Florida municipalities, city directories have been published annually for over a century. The content in each volume varies by town, year, and publisher, but generally they include an alphabetical list of residents with addresses, a classified business directory, information about local officials, clubs, public services, and societies, and a street guide. Some directories also include information on nearby towns too small to have their own published directories.

City directories are a goldmine for genealogists, because they can potentially provide several kinds of information about an individual:

  • Where the person lived
  • The person’s occupation
  • The names of persons living in the same home (including spouse) or neighborhood
  • Who lived at the same address before someone moved in
  • Where the person moved to/from (if in the same city)
  • How long a person lived in a particular city

These volumes are also useful for local historians because they can help with tracing the history of a particular building, a business, a club or society, or other local entity.

City directories may be found in public libraries, the State Library of Florida, or through one of a number of online databases. Ancestry.com provides searchable digitized editions of many Florida city directories, and a number of Florida cities have completed their own digitization projects to make the directories available online.

So how do you use these city directories for family history research? Let’s make an example of this gentleman whose portrait is included in the Florida Photographic Collection:

Leonard A. Wesson of Tallahassee (1940).

Leonard A. Wesson of Tallahassee (1940).

The catalog record for this portrait of Leonard A. Wesson says it was taken in Tallahassee in 1940. That’s all we know at this point. Using city directories, however, we can determine whether he actually resided in Tallahassee, and if he did we can determine roughly how long he lived there. We can also find out his occupation, whether he was married, and whether he moved around a bit while he was in the area. Let’s start out by checking the alphabetical name index in the 1940 Tallahassee city directory:

Excerpt of a page from Polk's City Directory for Tallahassee, 1940.

Excerpt of a page from Polk’s City Directory for Tallahassee, 1940.

And there he is! From this entry, we see that Leonard had a wife named Winifred, and that the two of them were living at 503 E. McDaniel St. in Tallahassee in 1940. We also see that Mr. Wesson was a busy fellow, serving as Secretary to both the Middle Florida Ice Company and the Tallahassee Coca-Cola Bottling Company. This is good information, but it’s only a start. How long did Leonard and Winifred live at this location? Who lived in this house before they did? Was Leonard Wesson always associated with the two companies he was working for in 1940?

To find the answers, let’s back up a few years to 1936. We’ll start out by looking at the alphabetical name index once again:

Excerpt of a page from Polk's City Directory for Tallahassee, 1936.

Excerpt of a page from Polk’s City Directory for Tallahassee, 1936.

This entry turns up some interesting information. It appears Leonard Wesson was serving as mayor of Tallahassee in 1936. He was living at the same location as he would four years later in 1940, and we get to see his telephone number in this directory. Note that Winifred’s middle initial is listed here as “A” rather than “L” as it appeared in 1940. One is probably her given middle initial and the other the initial for her maiden surname. This information could come in handy later when searching for Winifred in an index.

Let’s keep going backward in time to see what else we can learn about Leonard and Winifred. Here is their alphabetical index entry for 1930:

Excerpt of a page from Polk's City Directory for Tallahassee, 1930.

Excerpt of a page from Polk’s City Directory for Tallahassee, 1930.

Intriguing… Leonard Wesson was working as a civil engineer in 1930, and living with Winifred in a completely different location, 403 E. Park Avenue. Also, we can tell that the Wessons didn’t own the house, because the address is preceded by an “R” for “roomer” or “resident” rather than an “H” for “householder.” Each directory explains its use of abbreviations at the beginning of the alphabetical name index.

If you’re wondering who was living at the Wessons’ future home on McDaniel Street at that time, there’s an easy way to find out. Most city directories have a reverse lookup street guide that allows you to determine who was living in each building along a particular city street. So, to see who was living at 503 E. McDaniel Street in Tallahassee in 1930, we need to look at McDaniel Street in the street guide. Here’s the page:

An excerpt of a page from the reverse lookup street guide included in the 1930 Polk's City Directory for Tallahassee.

An excerpt of a page from the reverse lookup street guide included in the 1930 Polk’s City Directory for Tallahassee.

Notice that the address 503 E. McDaniel Street does not appear at all in the listing. Since this directory shows when a house was vacant (e.g. 1045 Lake Jackson Rd. in the excerpt above), we can safely assume this means the Wessons’ house had not yet been completed when the directory was published. (Note: A little extra research confirmed that the Lafayette Park neighborhood where the Wessons relocated in the 1930s was indeed undergoing development at this time.)

To determine how long Leonard and Winifred lived at 403 E. Park Avenue or elsewhere in Tallahassee, we could continue following them through various city directories, but let’s try to find out who lived at their home on Park Avenue before they began rooming there. To do this, we simply look up that address in the reverse lookup street guide for previous years until we find a different occupant listed. Let’s try the 1927 directory for Tallahassee:

An excerpt from the reverse lookup street guide in Polk's 1927 city directory for Tallahassee.

An excerpt from the reverse lookup street guide in Polk’s 1927 city directory for Tallahassee.

L.M. Lively shows up as the primary householder for 403 E. Park Avenue in 1927. That’s helpful to know, but who is L.M. Lively? We can find out more about him by looking him up in the alphabetical name index in the same 1927 volume:

Excerpt from Polk's 1927 city directory for Tallahassee.

Excerpt from Polk’s 1927 city directory for Tallahassee.

Interesting! The resident of 403 E. Park Avenue in 1927 was Lewis M. Lively, president of the Middle Florida Ice Company, which Leonard Wesson would later work for. We see from the address listing that Lively owned the house, which suggests that he was likely the person who rented it to Wesson and his wife Winifred in the 1930s.

From these bits of information, a clearer picture of Leonard Wesson begins to emerge. In the late 1920s, he was a civil engineer in Tallahassee, possibly working for Lewis M. Lively at the Middle Florida Ice Company. By 1940, Wesson had moved up the ladder, had served as mayor of Tallahassee, and had become secretary to Middle Florida Ice. He had also built a house in the new Lafayette Park neighborhood. Armed with these details, we can now begin cross-referencing the information with other sources to help build a more detailed profile of Leonard Wesson’s life. A quick search of the Florida Photographic Collection, for example, reveals that photos exist of the Lively house at 403 E. Park Avenue:

Lewis M. Lively house at 403 E. Park Avenue in Tallahassee (photo circa 1980).

Lewis M. Lively house at 403 E. Park Avenue in Tallahassee (photo circa 1980).

This is just one example of the many life stories that city directories can help reconstruct. Visit your local library, the State Library of Florida, or an online database to explore city directories and see what you can discover!

Need help finding a specific city directory? Contact the State Library’s reference desk by phone at (850)-245-6682 or email at library@dos.myflorida.com for assistance.

Employee James McCamon of the Middle Florida Ice Company cools off by reading the Tallahassee Democrat while sitting on a block of ice (1965).

Employee James McCamon of the Middle Florida Ice Company cools off by reading the Tallahassee Democrat while sitting on a block of ice (1965).

 

When Florida Touched the Mississippi

The calm, winding Perdido River currently serves as Florida’s western boundary, but that hasn’t always been the case. In fact, for much of the 18th and early 19th centuries, Florida’s territory extended all the way to the Mississippi River!

Read more »

When Dade County Was On the Gulf Coast

It doesn’t take a genius to realize map-making has come a long way since the early 19th century. Today’s Floridians would also likely agree that it shouldn’t take a genius to know where Miami-Dade County ought to be on a map of the Sunshine State. If that’s the case, then how in the world did THIS happen?

An 1838 map of Florida showing Dade County incorrectly on the Gulf Coast, just north of Tampa Bay (Florida Map Collection, State Library).

An 1838 map of Florida showing Dade County incorrectly on the Gulf Coast, just north of Tampa Bay (Florida Map Collection, State Library).

That’s right – in 1838, at least one mapmaker believed Dade County was supposed to be on Florida’s Gulf Coast north of Tampa Bay instead of down in South Florida on the Atlantic Coast where we would expect it to be. All jokes aside, the error in this case was probably only partly to do with the mapmaker’s wits and smarts. Some of the confusion likely resulted from the events leading up to Dade County’s establishment in 1836.

Prior to 1836, all of the land in what is now Miami-Dade County was part of Monroe County, which at that time contained everything south of an irregular line running from Charlotte Harbor on the Gulf coast, down to Lake Okeechobee (then called Lake Macaco) and down the course of the Hillsboro River to the Atlantic. When the territorial legislature met in January 1836, the representatives drew up a bill to create a new county using some of this expansive territory. Legislative records show that no representatives voted against the bill, not even Richard Fitzpatrick, Monroe County’s delegate.

The name didn’t provoke much debate either. Seven days before the legislative session convened, two companies of U.S. troops led by Major Francis Dade had fought one of the most violent battles of the Second Seminole War, in which Major Dade and a number of his men were killed. The legislators consequently agreed to name the new county “Dade” as a memorial to the fallen commander.

Historical markers at Dade Battlefield Historic State Park near Bushnell in Sumter County (circa 1950s).

Historical markers at Dade Battlefield Historic State Park near Bushnell in Sumter County (circa 1950s).

Here’s where our mapmaker may have gotten into trouble. Since the new county was supposed to be a memorial to Major Dade, perhaps he thought it was supposed include the site of the late commander’s final battle. There was also a fort in the area that had just been renamed Fort Dade in the major’s memory – perhaps this was a contributing factor. It’s tough to say for sure. Even had this been the mapmaker’s thinking, Dade’s Battlefield is actually located more to the east in present-day Sumter County. More importantly, the act creating Dade County clearly situates it in the southeastern corner of the peninsula.

We may never know the full story behind Dade County’s short-lived Gulf coast career, but it’s one of those humorous little mistakes that help remind us that the historical actors we study were human beings. The history we learn from them wasn’t predetermined – it involved a multitude of individual decisions, actions, and even a few missteps.

This unusual map is one of over 1,700 individual items in the Florida Map Collection housed at the State Library in Tallahassee. Visit library.florida.gov to search the Library Catalog. If you want to limit your search to just maps, choose “Florida Map Collection” from the drop-down menu below the search box.

Use the drop-down menu below the search box on the State Library's catalog to narrow your search.

Use the drop-down menu below the search box on the State Library’s catalog to narrow your search.