For all but historians and the most enthusiastic genealogists, the Georgia Archives is the best kept secret in the state. Just 15 miles south of the Capitol, the Archives neighbors Clayton State University and the National Archives at Atlanta.
Despite last year’s uncertainty about the research center’s future, this year promises Director Christopher Davidson and his staff renewed enthusiasm for the Archives’ work.
On July 1, the Archives transferred from the Secretary of State’s umbrella to the University System of Georgia. Complementing that transfer, state legislators set aside an additional $300,000 to extend the facility’s public hours.
Currently open Fridays and Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Archives is welcoming visitors Wednesdays and Thursdays. The additional funding will also allow the Archives to rebuild its staff, adding three new full-time positions and a handful of part-time positions.
Free to the public, the Archives offers some of Georgia’s most unique historical treasures — all but two state constitutions, land records you can’t find online, unique tax records, compilations of letters by Georgia colonists, maps dating back for centuries and, most interesting, the Archives stores and preserves, in a vault within a larger vault, the original physical copy of the 1732 Georgia charter.
A mix of modernist architecture and quaint interior design, the Archives creates an almost idyllic atmosphere, its large windows flooding natural light into the Reference Room, its polished wood bookshelves and wood panel ceiling inviting nostaglia. Although the visitors are almost all genealogical researchers, retirees looking to track down stories about their great-great-grandparents, you can just as easily imagine in this environment a graduate student working on his dissertation or a history professor researching her next article.
The Reference Room at the Georgia Archives is open to the public Friday and Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Starting July 31, it will be open on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
The bookshelves hold sometimes mundane, sometimes surprising accounts of Georgia history. Alongside records of Gwinnett County churches and executive council meeting minutes, you’ll find absorbing accounts, such as this opening of "What the People Want":
“The lock splintered with a crash, and the mob poured into the outer office. My own door stood ajar, and I could see the montage of angry faces,” wrote former Gov. Ellis Gibbs Arnall.
Make sure you have a valid, government issued ID on hand to present at the welcome desk.
Avoid carrying large bags. Before you head to the Reference Room, you’ll need to place most belongings in lockers.
Staff do allow laptops, books and pencils in the research areas.