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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 The State Archives collects and preserves unpublished materials, including records from government agencies and from private citizens, businesses, families and organizations.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 Returns – Sumter 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.
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.
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.
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.)