Atlanta Research Repositories

By Susan Wenner Premium

As the phoenix of the South, Atlanta rose from the ashes of the Civil War to become one of the region’s largest, most dynamic cities and the “capital of the New South.” Despite its modern attitudes and appearance, though, the city harbors a long and complicated past. Atlanta now serves as a major repository of its history on paper and microfilm.

The mother lode of southeastern US genealogical records awaits you at the National Archives and Records Administration Southeast Region (1557 St. Joseph Ave., 404-763-7474). Located between downtown and the Hartsfield Atlanta Airport, this facility specializes in federal records from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, dating from 1716. Regional holdings include indexes of passenger arrival lists for eastern and Gulf Coast ports and naturalization records from federal courts throughout the Southeast. Also look for military service records and indexes (including World War II draft registration cards) and pension and bounty land warrant applications. For general US research, you’ll find federal census records and indexes from 1790 to 1920.

Before you go, check out the Guide to Archival Holdings at NARA’s Southeast Region (Atlanta). To get there by public transportation, take the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) train to the East Point or Lakewood station and catch bus 20 for a five-minute ride to the facility. (For help navigating MARTA, see the website or call 404-848-5000.) Once you’re there, you’ll need to apply for a researcher identification card (similar to a library card) in order to use the archival holdings. Nearby hotels include Hampton Inn and Suites Atlanta and Holiday Inn Airport North. If you’re looking for something to eat, your choices around here are mostly chain restaurants and cafes.

The place for Georgia-specific research is the Georgia Department of Archives and History (330 Capitol Ave. SE, 404-656-2350). At the Ben W. Fortson Archives and Records Building, you can tap state and local records, as well as private manuscripts and photographs, dating from 1732. The archives’ Surveyor General Collection includes Georgia’s 1.5 million land grants and plats from 1775 to 1909, plus more than 10,000 county and state maps. In the non-government section, you’ll find family letters and papers, business records and account books, records of organizations and churches, and photographs.

Take a look at Documenting Family History in Georgia before your visit to the state archives. If you take MARTA, the state archives is three blocks south of the Georgia State University station. Upon arrival, apply for a research card, which must be worn at all times while in the building.

Also downtown is the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library’s local and family history department (1 Margaret Mitchell Square, 404-730-4636). Located on the main library’s fifth floor, this department has books on the history of Atlanta, Georgia and the neighboring region, plus genealogy sources for Georgia as well as some sources for North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and other states. Highlights include Atlanta city directories from 1867, Atlanta telephone directories from 1946 and criss-cross directories from 1946; microfilmed archives of The Atlanta Georgian and neighborhood community papers; a biographical index card file of prominent Georgians of the past; and Georgia vital records indexes.

Take MARTA to Peachtree Center station. The library is at the corner of Forsyth Street and Carnegie Way. Pick up the genealogy “pathfinder” guides for beginners, African-American research, Native American research and missing persons at the service desk.

If you want to stay near the state archives and downtown public library, there are plenty of hotels in the vicinity: Atlanta Hilton and Towers, Best Western American Hotel, Days Inn Downtown and Ramada Hotel Downtown. There are plenty of restaurants in the area.

A good stop for both state and regional research is the Atlanta History Center (130 West Paces Ferry Road NW, 404-814-4000). Its general collections include a special library dedicated to the American Revolution, cemetery and census records, insurance maps and city directories. The manuscript collections include private papers, institutional records and business documents. The history center’s visual collection portrays the South through photographic prints, negatives, miscellaneous graphics, maps and architectural drawings, as well as film, audio and video.

To get to the Atlanta History Center, take MARTA to the Lenox station. Transfer to bus 23 to Peachtree and West Paces Ferry Road. Walk three blocks west on West Paces Ferry Road and you’ll reach the pedestrian entrance in front. Be sure to register before you begin researching. Places to stay in this area include Embassy Suites, Wyndham Garden Hotel and Hampton Inn Buckhead. Buckhead is Atlanta’s restaurant district, so you’ll have plenty of eateries to choose from.

For a break from microfilm and copy machines, explore some of Atlanta’s rich heritage. The battles and soldiers of the Civil War are still remembered at the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield (900 Kennesaw Mountain Dr., 770-427-4686) and the Kennesaw Civil War Museum (2829 Cherokee St., 800-742-6897). And what’s a visit to Atlanta without a little Gone with the Wind? Visit the Margaret Mitchell House & Museum (990 Peachtree St., 404-249-7015) in midtown Atlanta to celebrate the famous book’s author. To learn about the city’s more recent history, stop by the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site (450 Auburn Avenue, NE, 404-331-6922) where you can walk in the footsteps of the slain Civil Rights leader.

Read more in the Atlanta City Guide.