Skip to Main Content

Washington, D.C., History Resources

A guide to the local history resources available on the District of Columbia.

Maryland State Repositories

The Maryland State Archives

The MSA is the custodian of the records of the state of Maryland, including records of the colony dating from 1632. Researchers interested in the early nineteenth century should not overlook the holdings of this repository, because of the legal relationship between the District of Columbia and Maryland. Washington City, Washington County, and Georgetown --  originally part of Maryland -- acquired the laws of that state as well.  Many of the wealthiest residents of the District managed plantations in Maryland. The intermingling of urban and rural interests shaped the lives of those enslaved by the planter-merchant class who used the District as its urban seat. Enslaved laborers and servants were often caught between the urban and rural: frequently transferred or hired out between work sites, caught in the middle of legal suits litigated in either jurisdiction, and sold in the slave trade.

Digital Collections

Legacy of Slavery in Maryland originated in 2001 as an attempt to uncover the stories of freedom seekers. In addition to composing biographies, the project staff created a database that includes records of more than 40,000 individual enslaved, free, and freed Blacks from a census, court records, newspapers and other sources. This searchable database can be used to uncover information on enslaved people whose lived in both the District and Maryland and supplement the context provided by other sources.

Visitors Information

Researchers should visit the Maryland State Archives to access its textual records and extensive intranet site. Email reference staff for guidance:

Location: Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse State Archives Building, 350 Rowe Boulevard, Annapolis, MD  

The Maryland Center for History & Culture

Formerly known as the Maryland Historical Society, the MCHC was established in 1844. It has amassed a collection of 350,000 objects, dating from the pre-settlement era to the present, noted for its landscape art, household objects, and fashion collections. The H. Furlong Baldwin Library holds an extensive rare books collections, family manuscripts that include several families integral to the foundation of the District of Columbia, and the papers of political and communal associations.

Location: 610 Park Avenue, Baltimore, Md.

Virginia State Repositories

The Library of Virginia

The LVA serves as the official repository for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Its collections include records that date from the colonial period, including the papers of the governors and other political leaders, official state publications, court records, and published books, pamphlets, and serials. The Library also has created inventories of county records and newspapers so that it serves as a clearinghouse for all aspects of Virginia history. Its holdings are especially rich for those interested in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax and other regions of Virginia. 

Digital Collections

The Library of Virginia has extensive digital collections that include several transcribed documents. It is possible for researchers to look for documents related to Alexandria by using that as a search term in any of its portals.

  • Virginia Memory is the gateway to the Digital Collections of the Library. These collections include maps, photographs, broadsides, newspapers, court records, and posters. It is also possible to access online exhibitions, timelines on Virginia history, and lesson plans. 
  • Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative a digital collection that seeks to provide transcripts of documents related to African American life before 1865.
  • Virginia Chronicle a set of digitized newspapers published in Virginia, including all of those titles in the Chronicling America database and some that fall outside its scope.
  • Circuit Court Records Preservation Program includes finding aids for court records held by the state and the counties and an index to the digitized records of the Chancery Court. The National Archives transferred the records of Alexandria between 1801 and 1846, the years it was part of the District of Columbia. Through this program, the Library of Virginia has digitized these records and it is possible to search "Alexandria" in this index. 

Microfilm holdings

A Guide to Virginia County and City Records on Microfilm provides a listing of all official records microfilmed by local and state repositories. The Arlington County records include court and municipal records for the city and county of Alexandria when it was part of the District of Columbia.

Contact Information: use this portal

Location: 800 East Broad Street, Richmond, Va.  

Virginia Museum of History & Culture

Owned and operated by the Virginia Historical Society, the Virginia Museum of History & Culture holds and extensive collection of rare books, ephemera, prints, genealogical records, maps, museum objects, and manuscript collections. 

Explore research guides to find sources on the Civil War and manuscripts created by African Americans and women. It also has established the Reynolds Center for Business History to preserve and maintain collections related to Virginia's businesses.

Location: 428 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd., Richmond, Va. 

Maryland Counties and Municipalities

Virginia Counties and Municipalities

Creative Commons   This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial 4.0 International License. | Details of our policy