Public records can be a valuable source of information for many reasons. Through public records resources and through agencies responsible for housing public records, you can find access to anything from birth records to voter records. Such information is useful in performing genealogy research, background checks, and more.
Each type of public record may be managed by its own government agency. For example, property tax records may be managed by an Assessor Office, while vital records (birth, death, marriage, and divorce records), may be run by the a state ‘s department of health or county clerk. Yet, even with the categorization of records by agency, a particular office may not have the capacity to maintain and house the vast amount of records. This is likely where a State Archive Office will step in. If you are performing public records searches, you may discover that a responsible agency or public record provider only maintains records up to a certain date. If you find this to be the case, the State Archives Office may contain the older records.
The purpose of an Archive Office is to house documents from the state’s government, as well as other documents deemed historically important. Governments are actually required by law to maintain such documents, thereby creating a need for archives. Archives can include documents, photographs, maps, film, audio records, artifacts, letters, and more. The categories of public records you may find in a State Archive Office can include vital records, property tax records, estate records, court records, wills, bonds, and census records. These offices are open to the general public and visits can often be made without an appointment (although some offices prefer appointments).
Many State Archive Offices have begun digitizing these records. Where the records have been digitized, this can be very useful, as the amount of information in Archive Office can range into the millions. For example, it has been estimated that as one of the largest Archives Offices in the US, the North Carolina Archives Office maintains over 100 million original documents!
If a State Archive Office has a digitized catalog that is searchable, you can find a description of the available information, which will point you in the right direction when visiting the Archive Office. Descriptions can include the group number, the series number, the author/creator of the document, and the amount of information available (ie: 10 microfilm reels), and a summary. If the original document is not located in the Archive Offices, you may also find information on where the original document is located.
Although a State Archive Offices is a great place to find those fascinating 200 year old documents, it may be useful to check with a public records resource prior to making the journey to your state archives. In the Free Public Records Directory, there is a description of where to locate various public records. The description also provides information on the dates you will be able to access a certain public record. For example, under the California Vital Records category, it shows that birth and death records from the Department of Health are only available from 1905 to present. Once you have been able to verify that a particular agency does not manage a record you are searching for, that might be a great time to begin a search with your State Archive Office.