23 September 2011

Visiting the South Carolina Department of Archives and History

SC Archive
     This second stop on my recent genealogy trip with the South Carolina Department of Archives and History (aka the SC Archive). My mom and I woke up bright and early to get there just after they opened. The Archive is located in Columbia, just off of Highway 277. When we arrived it was raining a bit and there were only two other cars in the parking lot.

     Making our way up to the building, the windows were dark and I was a bit worried that I'd gotten their hours wrong. Never fear! The automatic doors swung open we stepped up the the reception desk. Like visiting other archives, we were asked to fill out a form and agree to the rules (no bags, pens, etc). Unlike other archives, we didn't get a researcher card. Instead, our information was put into the computer and they would look us up during future visits. We put our bags into the free lockers and took our notebook, pencils, laptop and camera into the Research Room.

SC Archive Research Room     The first thing I did was approach the desk and ask about the room's layout and available records (I'd looked up available county records on their online index, but finding them at the location is a different thing) The very helpful archivist showed us the microfilm index drawer and explained about some of the available materials. Unfortunately, South Carolina records are very spotty, due to a lack of record creation and massive record destruction. For example, government marriage records aren't available until 1911.

     We grabbed some indexes for deeds in Lexington and Edgefield Counties and headed to the microfilm readers. There were perhaps as many as 40 of the older hand-cranked microfilm readers available and three of the more modern electronic readers with printers attached. Researchers are asked to take only one film at a time, which will prevent folks from hogging the printers.  Mom and I sat down at the manual readers and started hunting for ancestors. I used my laptop and genealogy software to keep track of names and the free wifi to tweet about my experience.

    Mom at the machines:

SC Archive SC Archive Print Capable Microfilm Readers

    After we had found a number of records in the indexes, I would pull the films with the actual documents and have mom print them. I was surprised to see that the print capable microfilm readers had coin slots on them that required you to pay 50¢ per copy in advance. We weren't prepared for this and had to get some change from the information desk. Due to this, I decided to only print copies of records for direct line ancestors and take photos of records for collateral line ancestors (I'd expected to save records to a flashdrive).

     Going back to pulling the microfim records: a list of all available microfilms were placed in binders. SC ArchiveI used the information I'd found in the index and look up the corresponding film in the binders. This wasn't hard, but it wasn't super easy either. The binders were a mess! There were also additional records that did not have a separate film index, so we used the binder to locate them as well.

     We took an hour break for lunch, but otherwise spent six hours researching at the archive. I didn't break down any walls or find any new relatives. Instead, I concentrated on finding supporting documents for the ancestors I already knew. Records included: marriage licenses, wills of three multi-great grandparents, deeds of two multi-great grandparents, mortgage of GG-granfather Witt and the knowledge of what records didn't exist. 

     Next stop: Elmwood Cemetery

  Also in this series:

1 comment:

Greta Koehl said...

I always think of the SC Archives as mecca. Thank you for posting your experience there. Now that I know they charge twice as much a page as the Greenville Library does, I think I'll do as much local research as possible before I hit the SC Archives.


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