Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A Family History Mission: Preparing documents for digitization

Maryland State Archives
No. 60

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission James Tanner" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them or click back through all the posts.

I am going to go through the process of prepping (preparing) the documents from the Maryland State Archives for digitization and then show where you can find what is already available. 

We are digitizing documents for FamilySearch and the documents we digitize are subject to an agreement between FamilySearch and the archive. The contracts are specific about which documents are made available to us. The project here at the Maryland State Archives has been going on for five years or so and we expect that it will take another six or seven years to complete. We are digitizing primarily probate documents and those related to probate actions in the Orphans Court of Maryland beginning around 1600.

Certain sets of documents are identified for digitalization. We work through the records county by county. The documents are stored on the shelves in boxes called "clamshells" and physically brought to us to prepare for digitization.  Here are what the boxes look like.

Here is what the boxes look like with documents.

The documents are tightly folded and are essentially the same condition as when they were filed away. Most of these documents have never been touched for as long as 200 years. The first step is to sort the documents into folders. Here are the documents as they are sorted.

 Here are the folders.

The documents in the folders have been preliminarily sorted are still tightly folded. The documents are sorted chronologically into small groups of 3 to 6 or more document sets to a folder. We select a folder to work on and then review the documents to make sure they are in chronological order.

We fill out a "target" sheet or cover sheet for each document set. The folded sets of documents may contain a series of related documents. 

The target sheet lists the main names and type of court action associated with the documents. Each packet of folded documents becomes a separate subfolder. We then carefully unfold the documents and record the information. This information is used as waypoints or a preliminary index for the digitized documents by the Archive. Unfortunately, FamilySearch does not use or incorporate this highly useful preliminary index to the records. Here are the documents being unfolded. 

Some of the documents have metal fasteners that need to be removed. 

Here is how I organize working on unfolding the documents. 

The documents are put back in the boxes and then they are ready to move to the camera stations. 

If we find mold on the documents, they have to be sent to be irradiated by the Archive before digitization.

The information on the target sheets is entered into a database that is used by the Archive to keep track of the documents.

The boxes of folders are delivered to the camera stations and are ready to digitize.

Here is a camera station with a document ready to digitize.

The target sheets are also digitized and the information in the database is verified when the image is made.

The original documents are put back in the box and they are filed away by the Archive. We are done with those documents. The images are transferred to a hard drive and shipped to FamilySearch where the images are processed and then incorporated into the website. Here is a screenshot of some of the records found in the Catalog from Maryland.

Unfortunately, these particular records are only available to be viewed in a Family History Center. But other records are available to everyone online.

Here is what some of the records look like.

If you have any questions, put them in the comments. 


  1. The target sheet data, which include the name and date of the image, is input into a spread sheet and used for the way point entry onto the image. It is verified at each step of the process as shown in the blog. When looking at the family search posting of the images, it is noted as Not Indexed. Why? Something about a horse and water comes to mind.

    1. Probably because it didn't come through the proper indexing process. They probably do not have a way to support some other indexing method.

  2. Are any of these documents humidified to make it easier to unfold them without damaging them?

    1. Any documents that might be damaged are processed before being digitized. Yes, but the humidity here is about 93% anyway. That is a good question, but the documents are not being destroyed by what we do.

  3. I didn't mean to imply that you were damaging documents. I know you aren't. Some of the records you are working with are so old, I thought they might be dried out and brittle. Is the humidity in the archives itself 93% !?! I know it can be that high outside in Maryland in the summer.

    1. Anytime a document is handled, there is a potential that the document could be damaged. For the most part, these documents have not been touched since they were originally filed and a few of them are fragile. If the document is too fragile, we send them to conservation to be humidified and flattened. Some of them also have mold and those are marked and sent to conservation to be irradiated. It is a complicated process. But most of the documents can be handled without any problems. I will write more about this topic in the near future.

  4. Thank you so much! As a Maryland citizen I especially appreciate your efforts.