Researching Sumter County at the State Library and State Archives

Looking for books, photographs or historical records on Sumter County and its communities? The State Archives and State Library of Florida can help! The State Archives collects and preserves unpublished materials, including records from government agencies and from private citizens, businesses, families and organizations. These documents take many forms, including diaries, letters, meeting minutes, reports, photographs, audio recordings, films, memoranda, maps, drawings and more. The State Library is home to thousands of books, maps and other published materials relating to Florida’s history and culture. It’s also the official repository for published documents created by Florida’s state government agencies.

Many of these historical materials may be helpful for studying the history of Sumter County or the families who have lived there. The following is a selected list of materials from the State Archives and State Library that may be especially useful for this topic. It’s by no means an exhaustive list–just the highlights. Try searching the State Library’s online catalog or the State Archives’ online catalog to find more items relating to your research.

 

Available Online on Florida Memory

Florida Memory is free to use, requires no login and offers a robust search engine for finding what you need quickly. You can choose to search the entire site at once, or search or browse a single collection. Here are some of the best collections for researching Sumter County on Florida Memory:

 

Florida Photographic Collection – More than 205,000 digitized photos from the collections of the State Archives and State Library, including about 200 images from Sumter County! Try searching for specific towns or landmarks, such as Bushnell, Center Hill, or Dade Memorial Battlefield.

Florida Map Collection – More than 300 maps of Florida dating from the 1500s to the 20th century. The earliest map in the collection showing Sumter County dates to 1855, two years after the county was officially established. Sumter County place names on that map include Adamsville, Abrahamtown, Lake Eustis, Lake Yale, Lake Griffin and Pineboro.

1845 Election ReturnsSumter County was still part of Marion County when Florida held its first election for state officers in 1845. A total of 136 Marion County voters participated, including some from the region that would later become Sumter County.

1867 Voter Registration Rolls – In order to rejoin the Union following the Civil War, Florida was required by law to register all of its eligible voters (males over 21 regardless of race) and hold elections to choose delegates to a statewide convention, who would then frame a new state constitution. A total of 280 black and white individuals registered to vote in Sumter County.

Confederate Pension Applications – The State of Florida granted pensions to thousands of aging or disabled Confederate veterans and their widows starting in 1885. This series contains the forms and correspondence associated with each Confederate veteran or widow who applied for a pension in Florida. A total of 158 applications are from Sumter County. That number doesn’t include Confederate veterans who may have lived in Sumter County but later moved and applied for their pension from some other county.

Florida Auto Registrations, 1905-1917 – Did you know J.O. Fleece, founder of the Fleece Telephone Company, was the first person from Sumter County to register an automobile with the state? Would you have guessed that it only had 18 horsepower? Use this collection to research some of Florida’s earliest automobile owners, including over 70 from Sumter County.

World War I Service Cards – At the end of World War I, Congress ordered the military to create a brief service record for each person who served during the war and submit them to the adjutants general of each state. Florida Memory has digitized these service record cards—all 42,412 of them! Over 250 records document the service of soldiers who lived in Sumter County before the war.

WPA Church Records – The Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided employment for millions of Americans during the Great Depression by establishing all sorts of useful public works programs and even research and writing projects. One of the WPA’s Florida projects was a complete inventory of every church in the state, along with a listing of available church records. WPA field workers reported on 80 churches in Sumter County, the oldest being the Adamsville Methodist Episcopal Church, reportedly established in 1850.

 

State Archives Collections Available for In-Person Research or Phone/Email Requests

Florida Memory is growing every day, but it offers only a tiny fraction of the material available for research at the State Archives in Tallahassee. A complete research facility is open to the public, including a full staff of archivists to help researchers find the resources they need. In many cases, if your request is specific enough the Reference Desk staff can locate the records or information you are looking for and make scans or copies without you visiting the Archives in person. Staff members must limit their research to 30 minutes per request, however, so this may not be possible for more detailed inquiries. Visit archivesflorida.com to learn more about the State Archives’ policies, procedures and fee schedule for copy/scanning services.

The following is a list of archival collections containing a significant amount of material on Sumter County. Each link will take you to the collection’s catalog record in the State Archives’ online catalog, where you can view a listing of the boxes and folders it contains.

 

Sumter County Tax Assessment Rolls, 1892-1931, 1934-1935 (Series L31)

This series contains the tax assessment rolls from 1892-1931 and 1934-1935 maintained by the Tax Collector’s Office of Sumter County, Florida.  The ledgers contain a statement on all persons and property within Sumter County that were subject to taxation.  The records include the following information: description of the land to be taxed, the name of the owner, and the amount of tax due. Tax rolls can be very useful for verifying that an ancestor lived or at least had business in a certain county at a certain time.

Diaries of William Terrell Eddins, 1901, 1908-1915, 1937-1942 (Collection M99-1)

William Terrell Eddins (1887-1959) moved with his family from Mississippi to Florida in 1894 or 1895, 10 years after the railroad was extended from Wildwood to Tampa.  They settled on a farm near Edenfield, a railroad siding about two miles north of Bushnell, living in a wood slab house which was a typical home for Florida pioneers of that time. As a young man, Eddins worked on the family farm and at the sawmill in Edenfield and aspired to became a teacher and a writer. He taught school at Barberville (1910-1911), White City, near Fort Pierce (1911-1913), and Green Cove Springs (1916-1917).  Following his army service in World War I, he was elected Superintendent of Schools for Sumter County, serving in that post for 12 years. Later he served as Postmaster in Bushnell until his retirement in 1957.

This collection consists primarily of personal pocket diaries kept by William Terrell Eddins from 1908-1915 and again from 1937-1942.  Eddins began keeping daily diaries in January 1908, just prior to his 21st birthday.  The brief entries mostly discuss the daily activities of Eddins and his family and friends and Eddins’ observances of people in Edenfield and Bushnell communities. Subjects discussed include working the farm and at the sawmill; teaching school; playing ball; hunting; church and prayer meetings; picnics, dances, and other social events; courtships of Eddins and his siblings; treatment of illnesses and injuries; and local weather conditions. Occasional entries note incidents perhaps indicative of local racial tensions; other entries contain terse references to national or worldwide events. In addition to the daily diaries, the collection includes one volume consisting of brief notes concerning Eddins’ experiences and acquaintances during his army service in Europe, ca. 1918-1919.

County and State Officer Directories, 1845-1997 (Series S1284)Since Florida first established a territorial government in the 1820s, the Secretary of State (Secretary of the Territory prior to 1845) has maintained a directory of state and county officials. The records for county officials are generally organized by county name, so it’s easy to quickly locate a list of the individuals who held county offices such as sheriff, county commissioner or justice of the peace at any given time in your county.

Election Returns by County, 1824-1926 (Series S21) – These are official election returns sent to the Secretary of State by individual voting precincts. The documents often show the names of the individuals who voted at each precinct. This is another tool for locating specific ancestors in specific places over time. Box 40 of this series contains scattered returns for Sumter County from 1853-1926.

Election Return Canvasses, 1865-2004 (Series S1258) – This series contains national, state and county canvassing reports for the State of Florida dating back to the end of the Civil War. These records are a valuable tool for studying the political history of a community because they show how many votes each candidate received in each election–the winners as well as the losers. The records are arranged chronologically, so canvassing reports relating to Sumter County elections will be located throughout the volumes.

Governors’ Records (Multiple Series) – The correspondence and subject files of Florida’s governors are excellent sources for understanding what was happening in a Florida community at a specific point in time. County and state officials, as well as everyday citizens, often write to the governor to discuss their concerns or ideas about important subjects or events. These records are typically organized alphabetically by topic or county in each governor’s records. The correspondence and subject files of Governor Farris Bryant, for example, contain four folders of material relating specifically to Sumter County. Governor LeRoy Collins’ papers contain another five folders. There’s a separate collection (or series, in archives-speak) for each governor. Visit the State Archives’ Online Catalog and search for a specific governor to find the records you’re looking for, or visit our Guide to Florida Governors and the Florida Cabinet on Florida Memory.

State Defense Council Subject Files, 1940-1946 (Series S419) – The State Defense Council coordinated civilian defense activities in Florida during World War II. Every county and many major cities and towns had their own local defense councils, which worked closely with the state entity to manage tasks such as blackout preparedness, scrap collection, bond drives, food conservation, enemy aircraft observation teams, auxiliary policing and more. Box 47 of this collection contains folders relating specifically to Sumter County, although the records are organized by topic as well as by county, so there’s likely much more useful information scattered throughout the collection.

Tax Rolls (Series S28)These records document the taxable property of each household in the state over time. The records include tax rolls for Sumter County from 1853 to 1877, with some years missing.

 

State Library Resources

The State Library collects a variety of published resources relating to Sumter County and its communities. Items available online include links; items without links must be viewed in person. Those items may also be available at other libraries near you.

Ephemera File – This collection contains brochures, information booklets, fliers, programs, advertisements and other documents. Many relate to tourist attractions or special events and festivals.

Vertical File – The State Library maintains an extensive collection of news clippings and other miscellaneous documents on a wide range of topics. The file includes folders for each of Florida’s 67 counties, including a large file on Sumter County.

Books and Documents:

Bushnell Boosters Club. Sumter County, Florida: A Brief Review of Its History, Resources and Opportunities. Bushnell, Fla.: Bushnell Booster Club, 1930.

Florida Daughters of the American Revolution. Pine Level Cemetery, Oxford, Sumter County, Florida. Florida Daughters of the American Revolution, 2001.

Florida Legislature. Acts and Resolutions of the General Assembly of the State of Florida. 

Greer, William E., Mrs. Graves of Confederate Soldiers Located in Sumter County. Center Hill, Fla.: L. Sumner, 1990.

Looking Back, Sumter County: A Brief Essay on Sumter County. Bushnell, Fla.: Sundial Print Shop, 1981.

Richmond, John F. Sumter County, Florida: Its Situation, Climate, Soil, Productions, People, Transportation Lines, Lakes, Rivers; Its Inducements to Settlers and Tourists, and Its Advantages in General. Philadelphia: Press of McCalla and Stavely, 1882.

Sloan, Russ. Lake & Sumter Counties: Florida’s Heartland. Leesburg, Fla.: Lake-Sumter Community College, 2009.

Sumter County Board of Public Instruction. Teacher’s Manual for the Public Schools of Sumter County, Florida. Sumterville, Fla.: Times Job Print, 1899.

Sumter County Florida Land Company, Inc. New York: South Publishing Co., n.d.

United States Post Office Department. Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832-1971.  (This National Archives microfilm publication shows the dates of establishment and discontinuance of post offices, name changes, and appointment dates of postmasters. Sumter County’s post offices are on reel 3 of 3.)

United States Post Office Department. Reports of Site Locations, 1837-1950. (This National Archives microfilm publication includes applications for new post offices and periodic reports giving detailed descriptions of where post offices were located in relation to railways, roads and bodies of water. Sumter County post offices are included on roll 98.)

 

 

 

 

I Quit!!!

Did you know the State Archives of Florida holds records documenting the service of virtually every county official ever commissioned in the state’s history? All those judges, sheriffs, county commissioners, justices of the peace, tax assessors and such have to be officially commissioned before they really have the job, and the paperwork from that process generally ends up here at the State Archives, permanently preserved as part of Florida’s official records.

The records come in several forms, including written oaths, bonds, certificates of commission and directories used by government agencies to see who was doing which job in each of Florida’s counties. These documents are valuable for genealogists and local historians, since it’s possible to use them to make lists of a county’s officers dating back to territorial days. Also, some of the records are more narrative in nature and can tell us a bit about what it was like to be a public servant in Florida at a given time.

This is an example of one of the Secretary of State's directories of county and state officers (Series 1284). These directories run from 1845 to 1997, and a separate series (Series 259) covers the territorial era.

This is an example of a page from one of the Secretary of State’s directories of county and state officers (Series S1284). This one happens to be for officers commissioned for Polk County in the late 1870s and early 1880s. These directories run from 1845 to 1997, and a separate series (Series S259) covers the territorial era.

Resignation letters are one of the best kinds of records for conducting this type of research. Many of them are very short, polite and formulaic, saying something like “I hereby tender my resignation as Justice of the Peace for ….. County, but thank you for the honor of serving, etc. etc.” Other resigning officers are a little more descriptive, revealing either something about their lives or about conditions in their community that led them to give up their office. Whether you’re researching the history of an individual or the community they served in, this can be very helpful information!

In some cases, especially in the 19th century, people resigned from county offices because they just didn’t realize what they were getting themselves into. Many smaller offices like justice of the peace or constable were appointed in those days instead of elected, and often there wasn’t much competition for them. A group of neighbors would convince someone they trusted to serve, and then send in a petition for that person to get the commission. There’s a certain rustic democratic quality to this method, but it did sometimes result in officers who weren’t totally prepared for what was coming. Take for example the case of C.P. Murdock, a Methodist minister who resigned from his post as justice of the peace in Jefferson County in 1881. He told Governor George F. Drew he wouldn’t mind serving as a notary public, but the justice system just wasn’t for him. “I find that the ill will and strife which not infrequently attends little petty lawsuits,” he wrote, “are not compatible with my feelings as a Minister of the Gospel.”

Letter from Charles P. Murdock to Governor William D. Bloxham, resigning his position as justice of the peace in the area near Williamsburg (now called Aucilla) in Jefferson County (1881). Box 1, folder 8, Letters of resignation and removals from office (Series 1326), State Archives of Florida.

Letter from Charles P. Murdock to Governor William D. Bloxham, resigning his position as justice of the peace in the area near Williamsburg (now called Aucilla) in Jefferson County (1881). Box 1, folder 8, Letters of resignation and removals from office (Series S1326), State Archives of Florida.

D.W. Lister had a similar issue over in Lafayette County in 1880. In his resignation letter, he explained to Governor Drew that he took the office “not knowing what kind of county I was in as I had just arrived to it.” He wrote that he found it impossible to both exercise his duties as a justice of the peace and live in harmony with his neighbors, the same people he would be called by duty to prosecute for crimes like petit larceny, public drunkenness, etc. “While I am ready to admit it is impossible to please all,” he wrote, “I fail in a grate [sic] measure to please any.”

Letter from D.W. Lister to Governor George Franklin Drew, resigning his position as justice of the peace for Lafayette County (1880). Box 1, folder 9, Letters of resignation and removals from office (Series 1326), State Archives of Florida.

Letter from D.W. Lister to Governor George Franklin Drew, resigning his position as justice of the peace for Lafayette County (1880). Box 1, folder 9, Letters of resignation and removals from office (Series S1326), State Archives of Florida.

Some officials simply didn’t realize what kind of work was involved with the job. Adam Young, a farmer from Suwannee County, resigned his post as collector of revenue in 1876 after a new formula for calculating the sharing of tax money between the county and state threw him for a loop. “I find myself incompetent to attend to the duties required of me by the new system,” he wrote to Governor Marcellus Stearns. “Making reports and keeping the books requires a better mathematician than I am.”

Letter from Adam Young to Governor Marcellus Lovejoy Stearns, resigning his position as collector of revenue for Suwannee County (1876). Letters of resignation and removals from office (Series 1326), State Archives of Florida.

Letter from Adam Young to Governor Marcellus Lovejoy Stearns, resigning his position as collector of revenue for Suwannee County (1876). Letters of resignation and removals from office (Series S1326), State Archives of Florida.

Many county officers resigned their offices because they moved away from the area and could no longer serve the county or the part of the county they were assigned to. This was an especially common issue before the arrival of the automobile. In at least a few cases, however, it wasn’t the officer who moved, but the county itself! That’s what happened to Alden N. Sibley, a notary public for Sumter County. In 1887, he wrote to Governor Edward A. Perry resigning his commission and asking for a new one because, as he put it, his part of the county around Astatula had been “cut off” to form Lake County. Governor Perry obliged and ordered that Sibley receive the proper commission.

Letter from Alden N. Sibley of Astatula to Governor Edward Ayleworth Perry, resigning as a notary public (1887). Letters of resignation and removals from office (Series 1326), State Archives of Florida.

Letter from Alden N. Sibley of Astatula to Governor Edward Ayleworth Perry, resigning as a notary public (1887). Letters of resignation and removals from office (Series S1326), State Archives of Florida.

Sometimes resignations occurred as a matter of routine, either because a new governor had taken office or a new law had passed changing the nature of the position, or sometimes because the office had been eliminated. When Samuel McInnis of Hamilton County received a letter from Secretary of State Samuel McLin asking for his resignation as justice of the peace, McInnis wasn’t too bothered. In fact, he responded with a polite resignation letter and even a poem:

“Your Honor” no more to be called
But plain, simple Mister to be.
No more to the Court House be hauled
Nor grieve for the loss of a fee.

The “fee” refers to the fact that justices of the peace received a portion of the court costs associated with their efforts to try minor cases.

Letter from Samuel McInnis to Secretary of State Samuel B. McLin, resigning his office as justice of the peace for Hamilton County (1875). Letters of resignation and removals from office (Series 1326), State Archives of Florida.

Letter from Samuel McInnis to Secretary of State Samuel B. McLin, resigning his office as justice of the peace for Hamilton County (1875). Letters of resignation and removals from office (Series S1326), State Archives of Florida.

What kinds of historical gems could you find in records documenting the service of public officials from your county? That’s the exciting part of archival research – you never know what’s likely to turn up until you look. Check out the following records series for more information on some of the documents we have illustrating the service of county officials, and plan a visit to the State Archives in Tallahassee!

 

Series S1284: State and County Directories, 1845-1997

Series S259: Lists of Territorial, State, and County Officers, 1827-1923

Series S622: Oaths and Bonds of Public Officials, 1845-2004

Series S1326: Resignations and Removals from Public Office, 1844-1904