Maryland was settled in 1634, when the Ark & Dove was sent out by Lord Baltimore and other members of the Calvert family. In its early years, this region was established as a refuge for Catholics, although other dissenting religions were also attracted to the colony in the seventeenth century. Maryland existed as a family-held proprietary colony until 1689, when control was taken by the Crown. With further political and dynastic changes in England, control of Maryland reverted to the proprietors in 1715, and so it would remain until 1776.
Unlike most of the other colonies, where the county system of government and record keeping came into existence all at once, with several counties formed simultaneously to cover all inhabited parts of the colony, Maryland proceeded to erect one county at a time, the first being St. Mary’s in 1637. This was followed by Kent in 1642 (on the Eastern Shore), Anne Arundel in 1650, Calvert in 1654, Charles in 1658, Baltimore in 1659/60, Talbot in 1661/62, and Somerset in 1666. These were all the original counties, and the remaining fifteen counties, along with the city of Baltimore, were later split off from these. Wills were recorded twice, at the colony and the county levels, reducing the impediments to research arising from the loss of county records.
Vast portions of the colonial records of Maryland have been published by the Maryland Historical Society in the series Archives of Maryland, now numbering seventy-two volumes, published from 1883 to 1972. These published volumes consist of material extracted from a large number of manuscript volumes of early Maryland records, with the material in any given published volume being selected from several manuscript volumes.
The first volume of Archives of Maryland includes in the front matter a detailed inventory of the original volumes from which the published books are drawn, with information on both the original volume (if it survives) and later copies. For example, the first book described is Liber Z, which includes four separate sections, the first covering business relating to the patenting of land and the other three sections containing probate matters. The fourth volume of the Archives of Maryland, entitled Judicial and Testamentary Business of the Provincial Court, 1637–1650, begins with probate material from the second section of Liber Z, with appropriate marginal notations indicating the page from which the particular extract was taken. The patent records from the first section of Liber Z are not included in the fourth volume of the Archives of Maryland.
In the various manuscript copies of these records, Liber Z is gathered in the same volume with Liber A of the original records, which also contains a wide range of record types, including a variety of patent, probate, and court matters. A recently published volume, prepared by V. L. Skinner Jr., presents the material from Libers Z and A, and also from some other early books, in a different format. The abstracts are here presented in a highly condensed format, taken page by page from the original, including the patent material not published in the fourth volume of Archives of Maryland.
These examples show that the same material may have been published more than once, in more than one format. They also illustrate that a published volume does not necessarily conform in whole or in part to any one of the manuscript volumes, and vice versa. This feature of the Maryland records, and of the records of several of the other colonies, may require the researcher to consult the original, not just to verify the reading of a particular document but to determine the broader context of that document.
Throughout the colonial period, the granting of land to individuals was, to a greater or lesser extent, in the hands of the Lords Proprietors, members of the Calvert family. During the years when Maryland was a royal colony, from 1689 to 1715, some authority over land policy was relinquished to the royal government but not all. The details of the changes in this authority, and in the officers who administered land policy, may be found in a study by Elizabeth Hartsook, published in 1946, contained in pages 11 through 77 of Land Office and Prerogative Court Records of Colonial Maryland. The land was granted in the typical fashion, through warrant, followed by survey, followed by patent.
Donna Valley Russell, “The Boteler Family of Maryland,” American Genealogist 70 (1995): 9–17. The author corrects a number of errors in previous accounts of this family. She uses a wide range of original colony and county land and probate documents, as well as material from the published Archives of Maryland. Donna Valley Russell, “Robert Burle of Severn River, Anne Arundel County, Maryland,” American Genealogist 74 (1999): 263–74. In 1649, Robert Burle moved from Virginia to Maryland; he was one of the leaders of a group of Puritans who had been forced to leave the former colony. This article describes the lives of this immigrant, his son, and two grandsons. Given the loss of early Anne Arundel records to fire in 1704, the author relies heavily on the copies of probate records filed with the colony, as well as the colony land patents and rent rolls. The published Archives of Maryland are the source for the extensive office-holding of this immigrant, and some early church records are also exploited in the treatment of the third generation.
- Archives of Maryland, 72 vols. (Baltimore, 1883–1972). Much of this material is also available online http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us/megafile/msa/speccol/sc2900/sc2908/html/index.html. 29 Ibid., xiii–liv.
- Archives of Maryland, vol. 4, Judicial and Testamentary Business of the Provincial Court, 1637–1650 (Baltimore, 1887).
- V. L. Skinner Jr., Abstracts of the Proprietary Records of the Provincial Court of Maryland, 1637–1658: Patent Record F&B (1640–1658); Patent Record Z&A (1637–1651); Patent Record A&B (1650–1657) (Westminster, Md., 2002).
- Elizabeth Hartsook, Land Office and Prerogative Court Records of Colonial Maryland, Publications of the Hall of Records Commission No. 4 (Hall of Records Commission).
- Edgar MacDonald, “The Myth of Virginia County Formation in 1634,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 92 (2004): 58–63.