Image from a Baltimore, Maryland death certificateMore than five million records from the state of Maryland are now online.

These records include both the name/date indices as well as full vital records certificates, covering more than a century of Maryland history. They are now freely viewable in the ‘Maryland State Archives’ collection, at the Internet Archive.

What We Did and How We Did It

Hi. Please excuse the all-caps, but we’re currently hyped up on a sugar high from the pumpkin pie, and a records-high from OVER A HUNDRED YEARS OF NEW AND TOTALLY FREE GENEALOGY RECORDS THAT WE JUST PUT ONLINE and we’re all pretty darn excited.

Ahem. We at Reclaim The Records are so proud to finally announce one of our largest record acquisitions to date: millions of vital records spanning over one hundred years of history for the state of Maryland.

These records have never previously been publicly available online anywhere else — not on FamilySearch and not on Ancestry and not on MyHeritage and not on [insert some other genealogy website here] — except for some records that had only been available at the Maryland State Archivesinternal website, if you happened to be sitting in their building in Annapolis and using their in-house computers, or on their external website, but only if those records were more than a hundred years old.

This announcement is groundbreaking for us at RTR. Not only is this an unusually large cache of materials for one of our records projects, but this time, our acquisition was not limited to a basic name and date index — although we did get those, too! — but in addition to the decades of vital records indices, we also got the digital images of the actual birth, marriage, and death certificates for the state of Maryland. Yep, the real certificates. And now we’ve put them online, free!

And this story isn’t a pitch to subscribe to anything, because we don’t sell data, we release it. There isn’t any login or password for these files, and you don’t have to pay a dime to a government facility, nor to a paywalled corporate-run site. These records are all now just plain free. You can browse them, download them, or do whatever you like with them. (Of course, if you’d like say thank you for their new freedom, please skip to the very bottom of this extremely long page for a suggestion about how to do that.)

So, sit back and recover from your Thanksgiving overindulgence, while we tell you all about these amazing new files!

 

Here’s What We Got

These records cover the entire state of Maryland. And we honestly have no idea how many there are of them in total, but saying “several million? probably more than five million?” seems like it’s in the right ballpark. Maryland may be a small state, but this haul is more than a century of material, and it covers more years and more types of records than even their own state Department of Health officially counts.

But for the city of Baltimore, which is distinct from the larger county of Baltimore, the records were often kept separately by their own city Department of Health, and were often not included in the “statewide” record sets. Generally, when the so-called “statewide” records here refer to “Baltimore” prior to about 1972, they’re only referring to locations in the county of Baltimore, and not the independent city. So if you’re looking for someone from Maryland, you’ll often need to check through two different sets of data.

You can skip down to the bottom of this page for a big helpful table listing every record set and line item we got, cross-referenced with the Maryland State Archives’ thorough catalog, but here’s the basic information, summarized:

BIRTHS:

We received scanned images of actual Maryland birth certificates for 1898-1922 statewide, including certificates for Baltimore City since 1875.

We also got the basic Maryland state birth index for 1898-1951, and a separate Baltimore City birth index for 1875-1941 and 1950-1972. There is no separate Baltimore City birth index for 1942-1949 at the Archives, so for those years you can use try using the state index.

To be clear: birth records in Maryland are restricted for a hundred years, hence the 1922 cut-off on publishing copies of actual certificates, but that rule doesn’t apply to the basic name/date text index, and therefore many more decades of data are available for the index.

MARRIAGES:

We received scanned images of millions of actual Maryland marriage certificates for 1914-1940, June 1951-1988 and 2007-2013 statewide! (*wooooo!*) Note that these are generally organized by county, and then semi-chronologically within each county.

Why are there gaps? Well, 1941-June 1951 exists at the Archives, but they have not been scanned yet, so we didn’t get copies. 1989-2004 are scanned and legally available to the public, but only when ordered one at a time directly from the Archives, because the standardized marriage form for those years unfortunately listed both parties’ Social Security Numbers on it, and those numbers need to be manually redacted from each digital image case-by-case. 2005-2006 are scanned and don’t have the issue of SSNs on the forms, but we’re still working on getting them.

(One certainly could make a perfectly legal Maryland public records request for all of those 1989-2004 marriage records in bulk, and have the Archives staff work on the image redactions, but then that requester would also have to bear the costs of the staff’s work at their hourly rates for all those images and…well, we were quoted an estimate in the low six figures. We thought about it, but demurred. But maybe one of the larger and deeper-pocketed genealogy websites out there will consider doing such a thing someday, HINT HINT.)

We also received a statewide marriage index for (UPDATE: 1914-1930 AND) 1951-2013, with some years having separate indices for brides and for grooms.

A statewide marriage index also exists for 1914-1930 at the Archives (item S-1498), but it has not yet been scanned by the Archives. UPDATE! in the two weeks since we first published this Maryland Motherlode records announcement, a generous donor has stepped forward who had personally scanned the 1914-1930 “Male” marriage index record set S-1498 at the Archives several years ago, and he has now donated a copy of the images to RTR, which we have now added to the free online materials. So that now fills a previous hole in our marriage index data, yay!

But those previously-mentioned not-online marriage records for 1941-1951 still do not have any index at all, alas. Perhaps the Archives will make an index for those years, in the future.

There initially was no separate Baltimore City marriage index from 1914-1940 at the Archives. Luckily, the Archives just wrapped up a big indexing project for those years, which can now be both viewed and text-searched at FromThePage. There are other ongoing indexing projects the Archives is currently running to fill other gaps in their existing indexes; you can check out all of the official Archives transcription projects here and maybe you’ll want to volunteer some of your time to help them. Some independent organizations have also run their own indexing projects; for example, a Baltimore City marriage index for 1915-1919 is available for Maryland Genealogical Society members on their society’s website.

DEATHS:

We received digital copies of Maryland death certificates for 1898-2012 statewide, including certificates for Baltimore since 1875. We’re talking about millions of records here, actual full death certificates with tons of information (including parents’ names!), never before available like this. 🤩

We also received the statewide death index for 1898-1968 and 1973-2014. For whatever reason there is no Maryland statewide (excluding Baltimore City) death index for 1969-1972 at the Archives. But there is an online index created by the Baltimore County Genealogical Society for those years, and of course, the original death certificates are now available for those years as well.

We also received the Baltimore City death index for 1875-1972, with some years (1875-1880 and 1943-1949) even existing in duplicate index formats.

Most of these death indices are new digital scans of old dot matrix print-outs from old databases, or of old books compiling the lists of deaths by year. For some years, the death index data is also available in annual .CSV or text data files, all ready to transform into a text-searchable database.

NATURALIZATIONS:

And we even managed to get some naturalization data too — namely the card index to immigration and naturalization records for multiple courts in both Baltimore County, 1796-1851, and Baltimore City, 1827-1933.

These files are digital scans of microfilms of handwritten 3×5″ index cards, sorted roughly alphabetically by surname, identifying the court, the time frame, and the volume or folio number. There are 76 PDFs in just this one collection, and each PDF has about one thousand images, so that means …*quickly mashes buttons on calculator app*… maybe about 76,000 names just in this naturalization index alone? Sweet.

Altogether, the diverse group of materials we requested and received covers more than thirty record series, and more than five and half terabytes of data. Most were scanned by the Archives into high resolution images that were then saved as PDF format, but a few are presented as raw images or as text files.

 

Gimme!

So, where are the records, and how can you check them out? Well, it’s an almost overwhelming amount of material, so to see direct links to each specific type of content in a much more detailed and useful tabular format, keep reading to the end of this page for a helpful guide. But if you really want to dive right in, we have uploaded everything we got to the Internet Archive and here is that OMG LOOK AT ALL THIS AMAZING STUFF link you’re looking for.

You can browse through the PDFs/images on their site, or even download the files directly to your hard drive. There are also one or two items in that collection where you may see a notification that “this item is currently being modified/updated by the task: derive” which means that the Internet Archive servers are still churning through some of the immense set of files to automatically create derivative images and formats, but this process should probably be complete in a few more days.

(We’ve actually been shoving so much great new genealogical content onto their website that we also briefly broke it a few days ago. Oops.)

There are no copyrights or usage restrictions on any of these records. We wouldn’t be surprised if some or all of the basic indices or full certificates also show up on some of your favorite Big Genealogy websites soon — but that’s totally up to them. Whether those websites might also choose to eventually make a new transcription project to index the actual certificate data beyond the existing government-created basic indices — for example, perhaps to create a first-ever index that would include the names of parents and spouses listed on certificates — well, that is also entirely up to them.

(But we sure hope they do, HINT HINT YET AGAIN.)

 

How did you get all these records?! And how did they go online?

The short answer: Let us now praise a plucky young genealogist-intern-professor armed with the power of the Maryland Public Information Act!

The longer answer: Last year, we at Reclaim The Records were contacted by genealogist, adjunct faculty at BYU-Idaho, and friend-of-RTR Michael W. McCormick, who was busy wrapping up his PhD in Public History at Middle Tennessee State University. As part of his program, he needed to do an internship somewhere related to his degree for several months. Michael loves genealogy and he bravely wanted to learn the ropes about the multitude of nationwide Freedom of Information (FOI) laws, and help get more records released to the public. And so even though we at RTR are a bit of an ad-hoc bunch of troublemakers who don’t have fancy things like “an office” or “employees” or “regular work hours” Michael became RTR’s very first formal intern. And he totally rocked it.

We set Michael to task on two main projects during his internship, one of them our idea and the other one his idea. The first of the two was months of research on a giant up-to-date compendium of all FOI laws and vital records laws nationwide, built in Airtable (which is like a giant online spreadsheet/database), which is a project you’ll be hearing more about in a future newsletter. And the second major project Michael worked on was getting tons of Maryland records and putting them online, and as you can see, the man deserves an A+ for that one.

Our RTR board member Alec Ferretti mentored Michael and taught him the ins and outs of how to make a state level Freedom of Information law request, and how to research some of the common exceptions and pitfalls. Michael set to work learning how that generalized FOI knowledge applied to Maryland specifically, whose own state law is called the Maryland Public Information Act, or the PIA. And while these vital indices and certificates were (mostly) originally created by the Maryland Department of Health, Michael knew that copies of the records were stored at the Maryland State Archives (the MSA) in Annapolis, but had never been widely available to the public. As we’ve long been telling people, state FOI laws do really grant you the right to obtain copies of historical records held at government archives and libraries. And in our experience, this route is generally a lot easier and nicer than requesting records from Departments of Health.

In other words, we did not have to sue the Maryland State Archives, or anyone else in Maryland, to get any of this data released (phew!). We just had to research the relevant state FOI law (here, the PIA), research the state vital records laws, find the legal justifications for acquiring certain materials as compared to any internal policies about making certain types or years of material available or not, and then put it all together. We sincerely thank the Maryland State Archives and their Director of Special Projects for their cooperation, and we acknowledge their significant efforts in fulfilling our sizable request. They followed their state law beautifully, unlike some other places we have described in previous editions of this newsletter.

In recent decades, the MSA has done extensive work to digitize many of their most-used records. For several years, Maryland vital records have been digitally available to patrons from computer stations in their reading room. Those digitized files are generally linked to their associated archive catalog entries. The catalog with the linked records is also available to search from any internet connection, even if the records were not. So that was a decent start.

But the access that RTR is now providing in this project is even better and goes beyond what the Archives was already providing to patrons in-house, even for those record sets available online within their catalog. While most of these files could be downloaded as a PDF equivalent to a complete archival item containing perhaps a few thousand certificates, certain records such as birth certificates were only available in a proprietary online image viewer that would show from one to ten pages at a time. This made navigating to a desired certificate considerably more difficult. The MSA’s proprietary viewer also lacked the variety of modern features available in the Internet Archive’s viewer.

The Archives also had limited the records they placed on their external website to vital records from at least a hundred years ago. They had stated the reason for their limitation as follows: “Those [certificates] under 100 years old are available on the computers in our Search Room and are not made publicly available from home because they [may] contain Social Security Numbers [of dead people].” The work of the Records Preservation and Access Coalition (RPAC) of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) and the National Genealogical Society (NGS), among other national advocacy bodies, has established that Social Security Numbers of deceased individuals in genealogical records are not a justifiable privacy concern. Despite this, the Archives’ policy stood; you had to be inside the Archives building, using their computer terminals, for any links to more recent records to work.

But Michael, being the best RTR intern we’ve ever had, knew better than to just accept what a government agency said they could provide, and he read the actual law on what could be provided, or at least not explicitly denied or redacted. And it turns out that Maryland state law dictates that deaths as recent as ten years ago are legally open to the public. The Archives’ own one-hundred-year external restriction policy was only an arbitrary rule added by their administration, and not the law. And furthermore, there were also no legal restrictions on marriage record access in Maryland.

(Kids, be like Michael: if you want a public record, read what the actual state law says, not what an agency’s administrative policy says. Laws overrule policies!)

So, armed with the actual law instead of the policy, Michael’s PIA request successfully argued for the additional ninety years of death records, which were not previously online if you were outside the building, and all marriages to the most recent year the Archives had cataloged, which is currently 2013. For these ninety years of records MSA had declined to make available online, they did offer researchers the option to order certified copies for $25 or uncertified copies for $5. But even at that price point, the cost would quickly prove impractical when doing projects that look at a considerable number of individuals or families. Our groundbreaking acquisition allows researchers to move beyond cost-prohibitive arbitrary access restrictions on public documents.

 

This is a lot. Can you summarize?

Sure! All the files we got may be found in Reclaim The Records’ Maryland State Archives collection on the Internet Archive. There are lots of sub-collections within that larger collection, and then there are “items” (record sets, broken up roughly by the original Archives catalog entries and organization) in each sub-collection as well. You can use or page through almost all of the images and PDFs right on that website, but some of the files are just so large that you may have to download them (whether one-by-one or entire sets) to your computer in order to view them. There are some gaps in the records where the Archives was missing data for certain years, or where the Archives has the data but had not yet created and cataloged digital versions, or where a few years are legally available if you contact the Archives directly but cannot go online en masse at this time. The table below notes the series included in our collection, as well as significant gaps.

VITAL RECORDS & NATURALIZATIONS – BASIC INDICES
JurisdictionTypeYearsSeriesFormat
BIRTH INDICES
Baltimore Birth Index* & Maryland Statewide Birth Index
Baltimore CityBirths1875-1941CM-1134PDF
* There is no Baltimore-specific birth index for 1942-1949 at the Maryland State Archives.
Baltimore CityBirths1950-1972T-1344PDF
MarylandBirths1898-1909SM-199PDF
MarylandBirths1910-1951SM-27PDF
MARRIAGE INDICES
Baltimore Marriage Index* & Maryland Statewide Marriage Index**
* There was originally no Baltimore-specific marriage index for 1914-1940 at the Maryland State Archives. but luckily the Archives has recently completed an in-house indexing project for these years though FromThePage, making them text-searchable. Some independent organizations have also run their own indexing projects; for example, a Baltimore City marriage index for 1915-1919 is available for Maryland Genealogical Society members.
** A statewide Maryland marriage index exists for 1914-1930 (Archives series S-1498), but it is not (yet) scanned, and so it is not available here. UPDATE! The marriage index for 1914-1930 was digitized by researcher Greg Burton at the Archives several years ago, and he has now donated a copy of all the images to Reclaim The Records.
While actual marriage certificates since 1941 are available at the Archives as a not-yet-scanned part of the statewide collection, unfortunately no index exists (yet) for the 1941 through June 1951 certificates.
StatewideMarriages1914-1930 (NEW!)SM-1498
Not yet scanned by MSA
PDF (Male) – Data scanned and donated to RTR by researcher Greg Burton
StatewideMarriages1951-1968SM-223PDF (Male)
StatewideMarriages1951-1968SM-224PDF (Female)
StatewideMarriages1969-1972SM-225PDF (Male)
StatewideMarriages1969-1972SM-226PDF (Female)
StatewideMarriages1973-1989S-1851PDF
StatewideMarriages1973-1988SE-163PDF Supplement
StatewideMarriages1990-2013SE-144PDF
DEATH INDICES
Baltimore Death Index & Maryland Statewide Death Index*
Baltimore CityDeaths1875-1972CE-42PDF
Baltimore CityDeaths1875-1880, 1943-1949S-1483Text
MarylandDeaths1898-1944SE-58PDF
MarylandDeaths1945-1968SE-8PDF
* There is no Maryland (excluding Baltimore City) death index for 1969-1972 at the Archives. However, statewide death certificates are available for those years, so the certificates can be viewed individually, or refer to the Baltimore County Genealogical Society’s death index.
StatewideDeaths1973-2014SE-151PDF
StatewideDeaths1973-2014SE-151Text
NATURALIZATION INDICES
Baltimore City and Baltimore County Naturalization Index
multiple courts
in Baltimore
County and City
Naturalizationslate eighteenth century
through 1933
S-1416PDF

 

VITAL RECORDS – CERTIFICATES
JurisdictionTypeYearsSeriesFormat
BIRTH CERTIFICATES
Baltimore Birth Certificates & Maryland Statewide Birth Certificates
Baltimore CityBirths1875-[1922]CM-1135PDF
MarylandBirths1898-1910S-1963PDF
MarylandBirths1910-1913S-1988PDF
MarylandBirths1914-[1922]SM-35PDF
Maryland birth records are restricted for one hundred years, so more data should become available from the Archives through future Public Information Act requests.
MARRIAGE CERTIFICATES
Baltimore Marriage Certificates* & Maryland Statewide Marriage Certificates**
Note that marriage records are generally organized by county, and then somewhat-chronologically within each county.
* Baltimore City marriage certificates for September 1915 through May 1916 are missing from the Archives. Baltimore City marriage certificates from September 1922 through June 1924 exist at the Archives but were not yet scanned at the time we requested copies, and are not included here.
MarylandMarriages1914-1930SM-184PDF
MarylandMarriages1930-1940S-1951PDF
Baltimore CityMarriages1914-1940 (with gaps):
– Sep 1915 to May 1916 not at Archives;
– Sep 1922 to Jun 1924 at Archives but not all scanned yet
S-1738PDF – Gap where Sep 1922 to Jun 1924 files were not yet provided
** The statewide marriage certificates for 1941-June 1951 do exist at the Archives as item S-1772, according to their finding aid, but they have not yet been scanned and so copies are not publicly available yet. Unfortunately, there is also no corresponding marriage index for these years.
StatewideMarriagesJune 1951-2004
(1989-2004 only available on a per-image
basis directly from the Archives; see below.)
S-1864PDF – Duplicates part of SM-259. We used this series to obtain copies of marriage certificates for 1985-1988.
StatewideMarriagesJune 1951-2007
(1989-2004 only available on a per-image
basis directly from the Archives; see below.
2005-2006 also at Archives, see below.)
SM-259PDF – Our coverage of SM-259 stops in 1985, with some overlap between SM-259 and S-1864.
** Statewide marriage certificates for 1989-2004 are available to researchers directly from the Archives on a per-record basis, but they cannot be given out unless each record’s image first has any Social Security Numbers redacted by Archives staff. These records are legally possible to acquire in bulk, but the redaction work would be expensive, and we opted not to do so. Marriage certificates from 2005-2006 do not have this issue, but we did not receive copies of them from the Archives. They may be available to view digitally if within the Archives building.
StatewideMarriages2007-2013SE-154PDF
DEATH CERTIFICATES
Baltimore Death Certificates & Maryland Statewide Death Certificates
Baltimore CityDeaths1875-1949CM-1132PDF
Baltimore CityDeaths1950-1972CE-502PDF
MarylandDeaths1898-1910SE-42PDF
MarylandDeaths1910-1951SE-43PDF
MarylandDeaths1951-1969SE-44PDF
MarylandDeaths1969-1972SE-45PDF
StatewideDeaths1973-[2012]SE-46PDF
Maryland death records are restricted for ten years, so more data should become available from the Archives through future Public Information Act requests.

 

Until another genealogy organization (or company) fully indexes this enormous collection of materials, the Maryland State Archives catalog still remains the definitive finding aid. You can start there at their Reference & Research page. Next, select Birth Records, Marriage Records, or Death Records. You will then select the area and period you are researching. This will show you which archival series covers that jurisdiction and time. Once you click the appropriate series you will find a description of how that series’ records are organized, followed by a list of items within the series. Which item you need will depend on how the series is organized. You will usually need to go to the associated index series first to locate a name in an index. This will provide a certificate number which you will match to the record within the correct series and item to obtain the certificate. The organization of the files we added to Internet Archive is the same organization utilized at the Archives, but that organization varies widely from series to series.

And yeah, we know this is all kind of complicated, so please consider supporting indexing initiatives for these records. The Baltimore County Genealogical Society has an ongoing indexing effort for statewide births and deaths, and the Maryland State Archives has ongoing projects for indexing marriage records at FromThePage. Both indexing initiatives are accepting volunteers! While these projects are not affiliated with Reclaim The Records, we encourage any interested persons to refer to these projects.

 

Wow. This is a lot.

Yeah. This is one of the biggest hauls of records our organization has ever gotten, and we could not have done it without Michael’s dedication and months of work.

But you know what? There are a lot of other cities and states out there where we could also be doing this kind of thing, figuring out how the law and the local policies of government agencies and archives might intersect (or not) and how that can potentially lead to the freeing of millions of records that then go online forever. So even when there aren’t any expensive lawyers or crazy lawsuit stories, this is still the kind of important (and sometimes tedious) Records Reclaiming work that needs a lot of community support, just to make it possible.

And that’s where you come in HINT HINT ONE MORE TIME. We’d love a whole fleet of interns like Michael, or ideally clones if possible, spending all day every day identifying and obtaining and uploading new records. But for that goal, we need your help (and perhaps someday, a cloning device). Funding to enable big records projects like these comes from genealogists and historians and open data fans around the world, and we can’t do it without you all. But we think you’ll agree, the eventual payoff is pretty sweet.

So, if you have some leftover slices of pumpkin pie, or something like that, we would very much appreciate some of it. And we at RTR thank you very, very much for your awesome support. We really appreciate it.

Paperwork and Court Filings

Documents related to this request are coming soon.

State or Vital Records Jurisdiction: Maryland

Archive or Library: Maryland State Archives

Law: Maryland Public Information Act (PIA)

Record Type: Birth Records · Death Records · Marriage Records · Naturalization Records

Record Years: late eighteenth century to 2013, with gaps depending on record type

Record Format: Indices AND Certificates! 🤩

Record Physical Format: Mostly images saved as very large PDFs, some raw images, a few CSV data files

Number of Records (Estimated): At least 5 million, possibly many more, actual count still unknown

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(We ask because some states' Freedom of Information laws only allow state residents to make a FOIL request.)












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Screenshot of the Connecticut Genealogy Index