It’s History! Pennsylvania State Archives


Hi my name is David Carmicheal. I am the
director of the Pennsylvania State Archives and I’m really excited to
welcome you here today to share with you some of the exciting treasures that we
keep in the State Archives and explain a little bit about what we do. At its basic
level, the State Archives identifies and preserves any document that the state
government has to keep forever…and that’s a lot of documents over hundreds
of years…two hundred and fifty million documents in the State Archives, alone.
And I will also say we run the state record center, which is where we keep the
records that will eventually be destroyed. The records the state agencies
have to keep. So, between the big warehouse , that is the state record
center, and the State Archives we care for a billion pieces of paper on behalf
of the people of Pennsylvania. Increasingly we are carrying also for
digital records, as well. But the State Archives cares for anything that we have
to keep permanently, so we have William Penn’s Charter that King Charles II gave
to him in 1681 that established Pennsylvania as a colony. We have
Pennsylvania’s Ratification of the United States Constitution that made
Pennsylvania a state. We have all of the acts of the General Assembly. Whenever a
law is passed, it is sent to the State Archives to be preserved on your behalf
forever. So, we have records of governors, property records, land records, deeds,
building plans…anything that will…that has to be kept for very, very long
periods of time. So we’re going to show you some of those examples today. I’m
going to share with you some of my favorite records and the staff here are
going to show you some of what they do in order to care for those records.
The State Archives was established in 1903 and then in 1945 we became part of
the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). And PHMC
includes the State Historic Preservation Office, the state historic sites that are
spread across the state and The State Museum. We serve about 3,000 people
on-site every year, but last year we served over six
million people online, so you can also visit us without ever coming to the
building by visiting us online. I think if you ask anybody in the Archives what
their favorite document is, most of them are going to say it is William Penn’s
Charter. It is the document that created Pennsylvania and so it’s document No. 1.
We have the original that King Charles II of England gave to William
Penn to establish Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania, as you may know. is not
named for William Penn. It is named for William Penn’s father, Admiral Penn, and
Admiral Penn had loaned the King a lot of money during the civil wars in
England and after he died the king owed that money to William Penn. So , Penn asked him to pay him in land, in the new world, because he wanted to start a country
based on religious freedom, primarily. He had been persecuted for his religious
beliefs and so the document is a lovely example of a charter from the 17th
century. It has been damaged, unfortunately, before it came to the
Archives, I’m always anxious to say, but it was not in state hands until the
early 19th century. In this, the King gives Penn the land but then William
Penn came to Pennsylvania and bought the land again from the Native Americans who
lived here. We also have the very first laws that were passed in Pennsylvania
and in 1682 the Great Law was passed, it was the first series of laws passed in
Pennsylvania and the very first act was to guarantee religious liberty and
freedom of conscience. And so those are two really great documents that we have
here in the Archives and are very happy to have. One of my favorite documents
also is the act of Gradual Abolition of Slavery in Pennsylvania from 1780.
Pennsylvania was the first state to legislatively abolish slavery but we
have to say right up front it was not an instant act of emancipation. Very few
slaves, unfortunately, were instantly emancipated this act, but it was a major step toward the emancipation of slaves and the
abolition of slavery. What interests me about this document is , it is not just
a bureaucratic law that says they will be freed at a certain point, although it
does that, but it’s also a statement of morality that they feel in doing this
and I wanted to read just a bit of that text…a sentence or two, because it starts
out saying that they are so grateful to be freed from the British and the war is
still going on at this point but they feel that they’re winning it and that
they’re they’re going to get their freedom. In light of that freedom
that they are getting they want to free the slaves and they say, “We conceive that
it is our duty and we rejoice that it is in our power to extend a portion of that
freedom to others.” The freedom they have just gotten and they say also, “It is
not for us to inquire why in the creation of mankind the inhabitants of
the several parts of the Earth were distinguished by a difference in feature
or complexion, it is sufficient to know that we are all the work of an almighty
hand.” So they’re really saying on a moral plane that these are people who
should be freed and should experience the freedom that God has given them from
Great Britain, so it’s a wonderful document. We have many records of course of prisons and hospitals and other things that the state government is
involved in and they contend to become very bureaucratic, but one of my favorite
documents is the records of the Eastern State Penitentiary in the 1890s when the
statistics were being kept by a man named Sidney Ware. Sidney Ware was
convicted of two murders. He claimed to have fired in self-defense during a
barroom brawl and he was later pardoned by the governor. He was released from
prison and arrested on the steps of the prison and sent back in and he was
pardoned a second time by the governor for the second murder. But, while he was
in the prison, he kept the statistics for Eastern State Penitentiary. At the top of every page he did watercolors that are just gorgeous, where
he was illustrating what the pages of is about. And, so when he’s talking about the
causes of crime he will illustrate it with a picture of a woman sitting at a
table, obviously a loose woman, with a bottle of alcohol and there are drugs
and things in the picture. When he’s illustrating the nationalities of all
the prisoners, he actually illustrates the flags of all of those countries at
the top of the page and it really is takes a very bureaucratic record and
turns it really into a work of art, so it’s a great record. When people think
about archives they tend to think about old records and they think of us going
out and finding 200 year old records and collecting them. But, we collect anything
that has to be kept permanently and if we can get it when it’s new, we have a
better chance of keeping it alive for hundreds of years. So one of my favorite
records and I used the word favorite sort of advisedly is a record that does
not look like much. It looks like handwritten notes on sheets of tablet
paper and that really is what it is. These are the notes that were kept by
the Commissioner of Police, State Police, on 911 from the time he heard about the
crash of Flight 93 all throughout the day and so you are basically watching
minute-by-minute as he goes through and sees this crisis unfolding in front of
him. He makes notes for instance of “an aircraft down, unconfirmed” and then
later he comes back in another hand and writes “confirmed” and there are many
interesting things about this document. One of my favorite lines in this
document is where he says, in his notes, to double the number of police officers
at power plants and bridges starting tomorrow and I always think about that
as the next day he would never have written, “starting tomorrow”
because by then he would have realized the full impact of what had happened on
9/11 and no one ever again would suggest that we should send security
tomorrow….that it needs to happen today. So I look at that line and it’s
almost like a transitional moment in history that we’re capturing as it
happened and so this is a fairly new document but, historically, it is
extremely valuable and we preserve it here in the Archives. Hi, my name is Tyler
Stump and I’m an Appraisal Archivist at the Pennsylvania State Archives. So
what that really entails is I’m responsible for going out across the
state and finding historical records and bringing them into the State Archives
and so I’ve traveled around to lots of different places…offices, organizational
groups in where they are, lots of other different things like that. There
are billions of records across Pennsylvania, but only a small percent of
them are really historical or archival. So, my job is to find and identify the
stuff that is actually historical and separate that from everything else.
Sometimes, we get calls from people who think they have historical records and
we’ll go and look at them. Other times we have certain records in mind and we’re
going out and trying to locate where they are. In either way, I’ll go out into
the field wherever these records are and I’ll start appraising them. So that
means looking for historical value. We like to say, “just because
something’s old doesn’t necessarily mean it’s historically valuable. We see a lot
of receipts and old drafts and newspaper clippings that aren’t really the types
of things that we want to have in the State Archives, because they don’t really
tell the story of Pennsylvania’s history like other records would. So we look at
things like the condition of the records, the perspective that they have in them.
So whose story is it telling and from what angle? Is it related to other things
we have in the State Archives? Would it be better served at another archives and
maybe not the Pennsylvania State Archives? Is it from another state or
another area like that? So, regardless of what that is we’ll go and we’ll praise
it and then we’ll figure out if it’s an appropriate thing to bring back to the
State Archives. So once we figured that out, then I’m responsible for going out
in the field and wherever those records, we will try and box them up and we’ll
label them. Usually records, if you’re lucky, they’ll be in a storeroom or
back kind of a closet or something, but I think some of them stranger places I’ve
been to have been hospital morgues, prisons, horse barns and other kind of
outbuildings…bathrooms, I mean you name it. People store records absolutely
everywhere. No matter where they are, we’re going to go and get them. We’ll
clean them up and then we’ll bring them out to the Archives and then we just
kind of get them ready for the processing team, whether they’re going to
be…weather they’ll have more preservation that’s required or they’ll
be digitized or whatever else. Our job is to bring them into the building and then
we can get them ready for research from there. I think one of my favorite things
about being an Appraisal Archivist, is when you visit the Archives all the
records are nice and neat and they’re usually in a box or you’ll see them
online, but in real life documents are a lot messier than that. There’s a lot of
stuff that’s not historical, kind of a lot of junk that gets mixed in. Records
are moldy. The pages are torn. They’re stored in weird places. So I get to see
kind of the original raw, kind of records of history, I guess you could say. So I
get to see what it really looks like before it comes here. It’s definitely not
as pretty as it looks when you come and visit the Archives. One of the more
interesting things that we’ve recently acquired is this 1930s-era prison
logbook from a prison near Philadelphia called Graterford. In the 30s, actually
one of the more famous inmates in the pennsylvania prison system was Al Capone. He was arrested in 1929 for concealing… carrying a concealed weapon in
Philadelphia. Now when he was going to be released from Eastern State Penitentiary
in Philadelphia in 1930, the prison staff were worried that there might be someone
who tried to assassinate him when he was released. So what they did is under cover
of night the night before his released they actually secretly transferred him
in the warden’s own personal car over to this other prison named Graterford, which
is about 30 miles away. And the very next day he was actually released, kind of
secretly but nobody knew he was there. So he was just released right onto the
street the next the very next day. And so this log book, it’s not very exciting to
look at, but the interesting thing is that this book is the only documentation
that exists that Al Capone, who was prisoner number C- 5527, was
transferred from Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia to
Graterford Prison on March 16, 1930 and then he was released the very next day,
so March 17, 1930. So that’s the only evidence that we have because most
newspaper reports at the time all mentioned that he was released from
Eastern State Penitentiary which is where he was held for most of his prison
term. When we appraised records we are always looking for records that tell a
story from a different angle or a new kind of story that’s not really in the
historical record already. And a great example of that is this collection of
letters that we recently got, we actually were just called out of the blue from
somebody who had these in their basement. It’s a collection of letters from
Harrisburg State Hospital that were written in the 1880s. Now, Harrisburg State
Hospital was a mental institution here in Harrisburg that was opened in 1854
and just closed a few years ago in 2008. Most of these letters are from
family members who were writing to doctors and other staff at the hospital
and asking things like, w”hen can I visit my mother next,” or “I sent a Christmas
present to my brother here and I just want to make sure he got it” or things
like that. So it’s a really interesting kind of perspective on life at a mental
institution like Harrisburg which you don’t really see in kind of the official
minutes and reports and those sorts of things that are created by the
government staff. So these letters are really exciting record that we got
recently that kind of sheds more light on an important topic and from a group
of people who aren’t really as well known, kind of in the historical record.
So we were really lucky to get this call and get these records. When I’m
appraising records another thing that I really look for is what I call the
second life of a document. So originally when a record is created it has a
specific use but then when we get it in the archives now it can be used for a
very different purpose and a great example of that are these we call them
state anatomical board cadaver receiving books I know that the long title but
these were originally created when different citizens in Pennsylvania when
they passed away if their bodies were being donated to science or to medical
research so it records where somebody was when they passed away
the reason for death what medical school got the body and then where they were
buried later a lot of the individuals that had their bodies donated to science
were really marginalized folks people from prisons and mental hospitals
homeless people people who didn’t have a lot of family so a lot of times these
sorts of individuals are the ones that a lot of records don’t exist for them
outside of the state archives so we’ve had a lot of family researchers who have
come in looking for information on the long-lost aunt or uncle or a grandparent
or somebody that they know nothing about and we’re able to find them in these
ledgers and then find what their cause of death were was where they were living
at the time and where they were buried which is sometimes the most important
information we’ve had a lot of people were able to find where their family
members are buried because they had no idea where it was before that so kind of
the second life of these documents has proved invaluable for a lot of family
researchers I’m Heather Hickman I’m the head of collections management here at
the State Archives my section takes over one sec sessioning has brought the
materials in we organize and look at the materials we identify what it is we
rehouse it and do acid free archival materials including folders and boxes we
barcode everything we label it and we put it into storage we also describe it
on our finding aid which is available to you from home or here in our search room
that’s the tool you can use to find records so the archives has a large
collection of posters which we scanned and we’ve made available through our
collaboration with the Pennsylvania State Archives on PA power library and
the first collection that we did were our world war two posters and then we
moved on to skin our World War 1 posters and then all of our state agency posters
including including a large collection for pollution and environmental causes we are also scanning more than 30,000
postcards that cover every county in the state of Pennsylvania for you to be able
to access from home we have more than 20 of them already skin and we’ll be
continuing to add more every month for the next several years until we complete
all of them we also have a collection of business postcards and Easter postcards
and all kinds of holiday postcards and we’ll be putting all of those up for you
to use and one of my favorites is the Heinz pickle postcard which is actually
a business advertisement at the archives in addition to holding state agency
records we also have a large collection of manuscript groups manuscript groups
can be family papers a collection like posters or postcards and right here we
have one collection of the Preston family the Preston family included many
members but we’re going to talk just about Mary Preston today she was an
early women’s rights person she also spoke out about abolition and she really
fought for female education she herself was an early teacher and she attended
conferences and spoke about that topic frequently and here’s another example of
a manuscript this is for the COPE family we have three members here that we’re
representing on the table we have William Koch who travelled extensively
through Europe between 1825 and 1826 and his document will show you what
encapsulation looks like it’s when we put a fragile document between two
plastic sleeves so we can protect it from wear and from handling it’s quite a
large document and this helps keep it secure even when we have it in a folder
in a drawer we have his sister Anna cope she’s
represented with some poetry and his daughter Annette cope who has a
scrapbook here who was also a poet hello my name is Erin McWilliams I’m a
reference archivist here at the Pennsylvania State Archives I work in
the reference department so if you come here
I would be one of the many that would be here to assist you either finding your
records or suggesting additional records we also handle the emails and phone
calls that come in so if you send us an email you’re likely to get a hold of me
or one of my colleagues one of the most requested records in our collection is
actually assortment of documents they relate to the state land records the
state land records are the documents that are associated with the patenting
or titling of land in Pennsylvania we have the full collection here at the
archive so land granted by William Penn or later by the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania are stored here these documents have a great legal value and
that’s why they’re stored permanently here at the archives they are the basis
for your land ownership here in the state of Pennsylvania and one of the
examples that we have is actually when my ancestors
this is Jane Campbell she purchased land up in Erie County in the early 1800s and
the document itself provides a lot of information both for the legal aspect of
it again because the state land record but also it provides history it tells us
exactly how the land was settling the development of Pennsylvania at the time
and the types of people that were selling in the newer areas it also
speaks to the history of families in genealogy and that’s what makes these
records very popular among the genealogists the document itself for
Jane Campbells goes through a great amount of detail even noting how large
her barn was in dimensions and in the patent itself it goes into detail about
her family noting her children and grandchildren and actually noting that
she was remarried before I found that document she had been lost to time no
one knew where she was but she got remarried changing a last name this
document turned out to be a wealth of information for my family and there’s a
lot of documents in our collection in the land collection that can be of great
value to genealogists and to surveyors and others one is the largest manuscript group
collection here at the Pennsylvania State Archives is a manuscript group 286
which is the Penn Central collection here it is by far the largest collection
that we have in our manuscripts and it’s one of the more popular ones the reason
why is that we have a large collection of mechanical engineer drawings that are
very popular with railroad enthusiasts and even model builders here so we have
frequent customers come in to take a look at our engineer drawings and one
example that we have that’s very important to the state is the k4s steam
locomotive collection while drawing here at the Pennsylvania State Archives the
k4s is the state steam engine state locomotive that became official in 1987
when Kacie signed it as the official locomotive for Pennsylvania the KFOR was
the first scientifically researched and prepared locomotive being done at the
Altoona works this one was tested repeatedly more so than the past ones
were and it came into production in 1917 continued in multiple iterations up
until about 1928 the the drawings themselves are very beautiful very
articulate in scale and cover everything from the locomotive itself all the way
down to bolts one of the more fascinating collections we have here at
the Pennsylvania State Archives is the Indian deed collection or Native
American deed collection that we have here in record group 26 which is a
records of the Department of State these records span from the initial
purchase is done by Penn all the way into the late 18th century when the
final purchase of the Erie triangle displayed here are two examples of some
of the earlier Native American deeds that we have here one is from 1736 and
the other one is the walk and purchase from 1737 and the images themselves are
beautiful the Native Americans signed with their mark which is usually some
type of pictogram and these are very clear and evident in both of these
examples that we have here one of the more infamous indian deeds that we have
in our collection is the walk and purchase of 1737 this will
ad that was done with the idea that pens would get land as far as a man could
walk in a day and a half but they didn’t really walk it actually three people
started out and only one finished they basically ran most of the way and the
Pens actually had the the way cleared for them to make it easier and they
could get more mileage behind them there’s a lot of things wrong with this
deed that caused a lot of controversies later on but it is housed here in our
collection the original along with all the other in deeds that the state has
been party to over the years here at the Pennsylvania State Archives we have a
vast collection of military records spanning from the French Nene in war all
the way up to Vietnam and the types of records vary from conflict to conflict
an example we have the US United States Colored Troops regiment muster out role
there was 175 of these regiments and they were African American regiments but
they also included Asians and Native Americans within them these documents
have a wealth of information on the individuals that served in the units
including places of birth dates of birth they also have where they mustered in
and where they muster out provides a wealth of information as to where the
men of these units were raised and where they originally came from also in our
collection we have veterans compensation applications these are 20th century
documents that are a very very big value to the Veterans Affairs that you relied
on these often to establish service the example that we have here is of Richard
winners of the Band of Brothers Fame he has a World War two veterans
compensation application which provides information about him where he was born
what was his domestic and foreign service and also beneficiaries on the
backside these and other ones are available online but you can access them
here in person I want to thank you for joining us today on this tour of the
State Archives and we would love to welcome you in person at our building we
are open Wednesday through Saturday from 9:00 to 4:00 and you can just come in
and visit us or you can visit us online at
State Archives org we would love to welcome you either way so thank you for
joining us

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