State Research Guide: Maryland

State Research Guide: Maryland

Go home to your roots in the Old Line State.

For some, Maryland conjures up visions of fine dining on blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay, the water body that nearly bisects this Mid-Atlantic state. Others think of Baltimore Orioles “Iron Man” Cal Ripken Jr. If you love history, Maryland is all about the 1814 bombardment of Fort McHenry — Francis Scott Key’s inspiration for penning “The Star-Spangled Banner” — and the US Naval Academy at the state capital, Annapolis. But for those whose roots lie in Maryland, it’s simply “home.” If that’s you, it’s time to explore those roots — and our guide will get you going.

Netting assistance

One of your first research steps is to familiarize yourself with the Maryland State Archives (MSA) Web site <>, where you’ll hit the jackpot with online records and research help. Click Reference and Research for links to finding aids, records indexes and beginners’ guides.

Next, visit MSA’s Archives of Maryland Online <> for more than 471,000 digitized documents, including city directories, military records, a Colonial probate index and provincial court land records back to the mid-1600s. Don’t miss MSA’s Beneath the Underground <>, with data from slave schedules, runaway ads, penitentiary prisoner lists, slave jails and property inventories. Matches have source information so you can request records on microfilm. You can search across all MSA’s online collections via the Search the Archives link on the home page.

The Family History Library <> (FHL) in Salt Lake City has plenty of microfilmed Maryland records, too, which you can rent through a local branch Family History Center (see <> for locations). Run a place search of the online catalog on your ancestor’s county, then click a topic to see related films.

Starting early

The colony of Maryland dates to a 1632 grant King Charles I made to Cecilius Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore. (His father had already applied for a royal charter but died before it could be granted.) It was named for Henrietta Maria, Charles’ queen consort.

To entice new settlers, Maryland employed the headright system of land grants, common throughout the 13 Colonies. Anyone willing to settle in America, or to pay an indentured servant’s passage, received land, usually in 50-acre parcels. The system worked well for wealthy landowners, but made it almost impossible for indentured servants to own land, as they had to repay their passage.

The first settlers, mostly Protestants from England, entered Maryland in 1634. The colony quickly became a haven for Roman Catholics, however, thanks to the 1649 Maryland Toleration Act establishing religious freedom for Christians. But between an anti-Catholic Puritan revolt and William of Orange’s reign in England, Catholicism was outlawed in the colony from 1688 until the American Revolution.

Search for names of these early birds in Early Settlers of Maryland: An Index to Names of Immigrants Compiled From Records of Land Patents 1633 to 1680 by Gust Skordas (Genealogical Publishing Co.).

Headright patents, on microfilm at the FHL and MSA, name both the landholder and the person transported. Learn more about Maryland land patents and find indexes and records through MSA’s online finding aid, as well as its online records projects described in the previous section.

Since Baltimore was a major immigration port, you’ll find a few customs lists and passenger list abstracts beginning in 1820 on FHL microfilm. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) <> has port of Baltimore passenger lists since 1897, and < > ($155.40 per year) offers a searchable database of passengers from 1820 to 1948.

Accounting for ancestors

St. Mary’s City was the colonial seat of government, but in 1708, the capital moved to Providence, later renamed Annapolis. Maryland became the seventh US state when it ratified the Constitution in 1789; the next year, it donated land for Washington, DC.

The Continental Congress took Maryland’s first census in 1776 for a population-based tax to fund the Revolution. Information recorded varies — in some counties, the census lists only heads of household, merely counting remaining individuals. In other counties, you’ll find each person’s name, age, sex and race. A 1778 “census” actually was a list of free males age 18 and older, created so officials could determine who hadn’t taken an oath of fidelity (such as Quakers or others objecting on religious grounds).

Link to online indexes for surviving records of both enumerations from MSA’s Reference and Research page. The actual records are on microfilm in the MSA library. The 1776 census, along with marriages, tombstone inscriptions, pensions, naturalizations, surveys, rent rolls and other data, are available in Maryland Records, Colonial, Revolutionary, County and Church from Original Sources by Gaius Marcus Brumbaugh (Genealogical Publishing Co.). The data also are on the Maryland Settlers and Soldiers CD (Genealogical Publishing Co.).

Maryland was part of the decennial federal census from 1790 forward. You’ll find census records online at and HeritageQuest Online <> (free through subscribing libraries), and on microfilm at large genealogical libraries, NARA facilities and the FHL.

Getting stats

MSA has incomplete birth records, taken from church and civil sources, from the Colonial period to 1884. You can request a search for a fee if you know the year and church or county circuit court. The state required residents to report burials to county courts beginning in 1654; MSA has the resulting registers on microfilm.

Formal birth and death records begin in 1875 for Baltimore and 1898 for the rest of the state. Birth certificates up to 1924 are microfilmed at MSA, but requests for records less than 100 years old must include your identification and proof the person named is deceased. The state health department has records after 1924, but they’re restricted to immediate family.

Visit <> to access images of Maryland death index cards from 1898 to 1951, and Baltimore cards from 1875 to 1972 (you’ll need to register and obtain a password). Then click on an image to order the certificate by mail. A system for online delivery is in the works. MSA also has marriage records from 1914 to 1950; contact the county clerk’s office for earlier records dating back to the 1700s.

Holding the old line

In September 1776, the Continental Congress asked each colony to raise a number of regiments based on the colony’s population. This quota was known as the “state’s line.” Maryland raised eight regiments, many serving in major engagements such as the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, Camden and Guilford Court House. If your ancestor was in the Maryland Line — in whose honor, some say, George Washington dubbed Maryland the Old Line State — search the 1899 publication Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution on Archives of Maryland Online. You can purchase copies of his service records from NARA <>.

Maryland gave Revolutionary War veterans some of its western lands in the form of bounty-land grants. You’ll find the names of bounty-land recipients in Bettie Carothers’ Maryland Soldiers Entitled to Lands West of Fort Cumberland (self-published). The original warrants are on microfilm at NARA.

The British tried to capture Fort McHenry and the port of Baltimore during the War of 1812; 11,000 names of Marylanders in this conflict are on the Maryland Settlers and Soldiers CD.

Most wealthy Maryland landowners supported slavery, and a large segment held pro-Southern sympathies. But it stayed in the Union, thanks in part to the suspension of many civil liberties, not to mention an artillery battery near Baltimore in Washington, DC.

That didn’t keep Southern loyalists from going to Virginia and enlisting in the Confederate Army. When searching for Marylanders’ military records, check both Union and Confederate enlistments. The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System <> can tell you which side your ancestor fought for. The Archives of Maryland Online has rosters of Civil War soldiers, and you can order Union service records from NARA. See the July 2007 Family Tree Magazine for details on researching Civil War ancestors. After using these resources, you’ll hear “Maryland” and conjure up visions of family trees and faces of the ancestors who called the Old Line State home.

Merry Lands

Dig into Maryland land records with two online services MSA is testing. <> lets you access record images. On the home page, click the link to apply for a password, which you’ll receive via e-mail. Once you’re in, see the user guide for search tips., another password-access site, delivers digitized survey plats. To sign up, go to <>, then send the requested e-mail. A guide to using this system is on the site.

What can you expect to find? A land records index from as early as the mid-1600s, grantee and grantor indexes, and images of deeds and plat maps.
From the September 2008 Family Tree Magazine  

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