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Georgia Archives Extends Public Hours
For all but historians and the most enthusiastic genealogists, the Georgia Archives is the best kept secret in the state. Just 15 miles south of the Capitol, the Archives neighbors Clayton State University and the National Archives at Atlanta.
Despite last year's uncertainty about the research center's future, this year promises Director Christopher Davidson and his staff renewed enthusiasm for the Archives' work. On July 1, the Archives transferred from the Secretary of State’s umbrella to the University System of Georgia. Complementing that transfer, state legislators set aside an additional $300,000 to extend the facility's public hours.
Currently open Fridays and Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Archives will start welcoming visitors Wednesdays and Thursdays come next week. The additional funding will also allow the Archives to rebuild its staff, adding three new full-time positions and a handful of part-time positions.
Why You Should Go
Always free to the public, the Archives offers up some of Georgia's most unique historical treasures - all but two state constitutions, land records you can't find online, unique tax records, compilations of letters by Georgia colonists, maps dating back for centuries and, most interesting, the Archives stores and preserves - in a vault within a larger vault - the original physical copy of the 1732 Georgia charter.
A mix of modernist architecture and quaint interior design, the Archives creates an almost idyllic atmosphere, its large windows flooding natural light into the Reference Room, its polished wood bookshelves and wood panel ceiling inviting nostalgia. Although the visitors are almost all genealogical researchers, retirees looking to track down stories about their great-great-grandparents, you can just as easily imagine in this environment a graduate student working on his dissertation or a history professor researching her next article.
The bookshelves hold sometimes mundane, sometimes surprising accounts of Georgia history. Alongside records of Gwinnett County churches and executive council meeting minutes, you'll find absorbing accounts, like this opening of What the People Want:
"The lock splintered with a crash, and the mob poured into the outer office. My own door stood ajar, and I could see the montage of angry faces."
Former Governor Ellis Gibbs Arnall goes on to speak more about this storming of the State Capitol during his time in office during the 1940s.
Back in the microfilm area, researchers pour through card catalogs and copy their findings onto USB. Looking most often for marriage licenses, death certificates and Confederate pension records, these genealogists treat their research as a puzzle. Their joy comes from tracking down a missing connection, culling their research and filling in the pieces of an intricate, lovely and painful family narrative.
For beginning family researchers, the Archives provides free access to Ancestory.com, a good, if not entirely reliable, starting place to make connections. The center also hosts Lunch & Learn events every second Friday of the month from noon to 1 p.m. with topics focused on genealogy or researching in general.
What You Should Know Before You Go
- Make sure you have a valid, government issued ID on hand to present at the welcome desk.
- Avoid carrying large bags. Before you head to the Reference Room, you'll need to place most belongings in lockers. Staff do allow laptops, books and pencils in the research areas.
- Read Information for the General Public, and visit the Georgia Virtual Vault to see photos and documents online.
About the Authors
Bethany McDaniel is the Editorial Director for GeorgiaGov. She graduated from Berry College in Rome, Ga., with degrees in Visual Communication and History.
Noralil Ryan Fores writes about business, taxes, elections and the environment for GeorgiaGov. She's a graduate of Florida State University's film school and Syracuse University's journalism program.