Updates from the State Records Commission: October 28, 2020

The State Records Commission (SRC) is responsible for determining which state government records have permanent historic value and which may be destroyed after specified periods of time. The Commission meets every April and October to approve Records Disposition Authorities, or RDAs. These documents outline all records that state agencies create, identify which records should be preserved permanently, and provide retention requirements for all other records. The SRC held its regularly scheduled meeting on October 28, 2020. In accordance with Governor Kay Ivey’s proclamation issued on March 18, 2020, the SRC conducted its October 2020 meeting via a publicly accessible online teleconference. The SRC’s April 2020 meeting was cancelled due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Agency Outreach and Training

Records Management staff reported on state agency consultations and training sessions. In late March, the section transitioned from mostly in-person consultation to remote consultation via online teleconferencing platforms due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fiscal year 2020, Records Management staff held a total of 72 outreach sessions with 230 attendees, with 40 of those sessions occurring remotely. Meeting topics included RDA development and revision, records management training, permanent records transmittal, and the Records and Archives Modernization Project (RAMP), a collaboration with the Alabama Office of the Secretary of State.

Here are some highlights from the year:

  • From October 2019 to March 2020, Records Management staff worked with staff with the Executive, Elections, and Finance divisions of the Alabama Secretary of State’s office to organize files, properly dispose of records which have met the RDA’s requirements, and transmit permanent paper and electronic records to the ADAH. One key objective of RAMP is to organize the Secretary of State’s offsite storage facility. From December 2019 to January 2020, ADAH archivists from the Records Management and Collections sections inventoried the legislative volumes at the facility; set aside extraneous copies of the volumes in keeping with the Code of Alabama 1975 § 36-14-6; and supervised the destruction of obsolete paper records, as well as the surplussing of office furniture and computer equipment.
  • In March 2020, Ms. Rebecca Hebert provided records management training to the Laserfiche user group. Laserfiche is a private company which produces document management software. Attendees included 49 state employees from 24 agencies. The meeting educated agencies about the records retention requirements promulgated by the SRC and how to utilize Laserfiche in accordance with these requirements.
  • As the ADAH RDA was last approved by the SRC in April 2015, Ms. Sophie Law began work on a revision to the RDA during March and April 2020. Much has changed at the department within the last five years; moreover, the RDA’s structure and language are inconsistent with current practices. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff used platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to conduct 22 records surveys with ADAH staff.

New and Revised State Agency RDAs

The SRC approved new or revised RDAs for the following agencies:

Tourism Department (Revision)

The Tourism Department plans and conducts publicity programs to attract tourists to the state of Alabama. The department disseminates information about the state’s resources, plans and attends travel shows and travel-related activities, and contracts with regional promotional agencies for the purpose of advertising the state. In addition to promoting the state, the department maintains eight Alabama Welcome Centers which annually assist more than six million visitors.

The revised RDA gives the department more flexibility in managing its publications, photographs, and audiovisual materials in an electronic world. The department may take a hundred similar photos or create a dozen similar advertisements for use on various platforms. The department may create a ten-minute video by editing thirty minutes of raw video footage. Only a selection of these materials or a final version should be preserved.

Office of State Treasurer (Revision)

The Office of State Treasurer is the state’s central banking agency. The agency maintains custody of all state funds deposited with the state, pays duly executed warrants, and makes payments on the state debt. The Office of State Treasurer also administers several savings investment plans including the CollegeCounts 529 Program and the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Program. These programs provide eligible disabled individuals with a tax-exempt savings program which does not impact their eligibility for other resource-based benefits. The RDA revision accurately describes the Office of State Treasurer’s current programs and initiatives, while also including definitions and explanations that make the document widely accessible.

Department of Youth Services (Revision)

The Department of Youth Services (DYS) promotes and safeguards the well-being and welfare of youth in the state through a comprehensive and coordinated program of public services for the prevention of juvenile delinquency and the rehabilitation of delinquent youth. To this end, DYS screens and places youths committed by juvenile courts to DYS custody; operates institutional facilities; educates students; provides treatment services; and advocates for students by investigating complaints and misconduct.

The comprehensive RDA revision includes a notable change for the DYS School District. The district operates in relation to the State Department of Education as do other local boards of education in the state. Local boards of education have their own RDA approved by the Local Government Records Commission which is more frequently updated to reflect changes in legislation, requirements from the State and Federal Departments of Education, school practices, and other developments. The DYS RDA therefore includes a statement referring to the Local Boards of Education RDA’s retention guidelines for educational records.

Agricultural Museum Board (New)

The Alabama Agricultural Museum Board works in coordination with Landmark Park, a nonprofit organization and the official Agricultural Museum of Alabama, to preserve and share Alabama’s agricultural history. Located in Dothan, Landmark Park maintains, exhibits, displays, and interprets artifacts, and provides educational programing to the public. Staff and volunteers demonstrate historic farming techniques using vintage agricultural implements at the Park’s “living history” farmstead. Other educational activities include farm tours, live animal demonstrations, and historical re-enactments. Landmark Park and the Agricultural Museum receive approximately 30,000 and 40,000 visitors every year from the Wiregrass region and beyond.

The new RDA for the Agricultural Museum Board will aid agency staff members in identifying records which provide essential documentation of the Park’s collections and educational programming.

Athlete Agents Commission (New)

The Alabama Office of the Secretary of State acts on behalf of the Alabama Athlete Agents Commission to register athlete agents in Alabama (Code of Alabama 1975 Title 8 Chapter 26B). An athlete agent is an individual who “… recruits or solicits a student athlete to enter into an agency contract or…procures employment or offers, promises, attempts, or negotiates to obtain employment for a student athlete as a professional athlete…” (Code of Alabama 1975 § 8-26B-2). The Alabama Athlete Agents Commission promulgates rules and standards of conduct for athlete agents.

The Alabama Office of the Secretary of State requested the creation of this RDA to clearly distinguish the office’s work with the Athlete Agents Commission from its other duties.

Bicentennial Commission (New)

The Alabama Legislature passed Alabama Act 2013-10 on February 14, 2013, establishing the Alabama Bicentennial Commission. The act tasked the commission with promoting scholarship, education, and economic development through local and statewide observances of the state’s 200th anniversary. The commission and its partners engaged in a mission to support and create events and activities that commemorated the stories of Alabama’s people, places, and path to statehood. Between March 2017 and its December 14, 2019 finale celebration, ALABAMA 200 engaged residents of all ages in each of the state’s 67 counties and hundreds of communities via educational programs, community activities, and statewide initiatives designed to teach, inspire, and entertain.

The new RDA for the Bicentennial Commission will aid staff in identifying and preserving the historic records that document the state’s 200th anniversary.

Multiple Needs Child Office (Alabama Children’s Services Facilitation Team) (New)

The mandated function of the Multiple Needs Child Office is to assist the Alabama Children’s Services Facilitation Team in its work to provide services to multiple needs children. A multiple needs child is defined as “a child coming to the attention of the juvenile court or one of [five child-serving agencies] who is at imminent risk of out-of-home placement or placement in a more restrictive environment, and whose needs require the services of two or more of the following entities: Department of Youth Services [DYS], public school system (services for exceptional needs), Department of Human Resources [DHR], Department of Public Health [ADPH], juvenile probation officers, or Department of Mental Health [ADMH]…”(Code of Alabama 1975 § 12-15-501(2)). The Multiple Needs Child Office provides coordinated care for multiple needs children across the state.

The new RDA for the Multiple Needs Child Office helps to distinguish the work of the office from the work of the many state agencies with which the office collaborates.   

Capstone Email Retention Policy – Status Report

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) unveiled the Capstone approach to email retention in 2013. Capstone attempts to simplify email management by categorizing and scheduling email based on the work or position of the email account owner instead of each email’s content. The email accounts of so-called “Capstone” positions are scheduled as permanent records, while all other email accounts are designated as temporary records and retained for a fixed period of time.

Several state archives are evaluating and implementing more widespread adoptions of the Capstone approach. For instance, the State Archives of North Carolina implemented a Capstone approach with its Transforming Online Mail with Embedded Semantics (TOMES) Project.

The SRC first began discussing the Capstone approach for Alabama state agencies in 2018. In summer 2020, the Records Management Section developed a list of 310 positions from 73 state agencies (representing about 1% of the state workforce) which they suggested should be designated as Capstone accounts. All email messages sent and received by the Capstone accounts would be automatically designated as permanent records. The email accounts would be transmitted to the ADAH for permanent preservation when the records are no longer needed by the originating agency, similarly to other permanent records. Records Management staff provided this spreadsheet and an accompanying memo to the SRC. After further refinement, the list will be presented for approval at the April 2021 State Records Commission meeting.

Next Meeting

The next meeting of the SRC is scheduled to occur on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.

State Agency Records Destruction 101

No state government employee may destroy records without first obtaining the approval of the State Records Commission (SRC) (Code of Alabama 1975 §  41-13-21). The SRC determines which state government records have permanent value and which may be destroyed after specified periods of time.

The SRC authorizes destruction through state agency Records Disposition Authorities (RDAs). RDAs designate records as either temporary records, which may be destroyed after a specified retention period, or permanent records, which are preserved for future generations. State agencies may destroy temporary records after they have satisfied the minimum retention requirements prescribed by the RDA (and presuming no litigation or other hold is placed upon the records). The retention period is only a minimum; agencies may choose to maintain records for longer than the retention period. State agencies which have an approved RDA must document the destruction of both paper and electronic records and submit this documentation to the ADAH Records Management Section each year.

The ADAH provides on its website a template destruction form, entitled the “State Government Records Destruction Notice.” While all the required information in this form is mandatory, the format is flexible. State agencies may choose to create internal procedures for documenting destruction and may create their own forms. Whichever format agencies choose, they must capture the following information:

  • State agency name and department/division
  • Records Title as shown on RDA
  • Retention as shown on RDA
  • Inclusive dates
  • Date audited
  • Format
  • Volume
  • Total cubic feet (for paper records)
  • Total bytes (for electronic records)
  • Manner in which the records will be destroyed
  • Printed name, job title, and signature of authorizing official
  • Date signed

Documenting State Records Destruction  

Use a Records Disposition Authority

Consult your agency’s Records Disposition Authority (RDA) for retention requirements. The RDA lists the types of records your agency creates and the minimum amount of time the records must be maintained. Once the retention has been met, state agencies may (but are not obligated to) proceed with destruction.

Identify the record type(s) that you wish to destroy. Determine whether litigation or other holds prevent the destruction of otherwise eligible records. Then, document the following information in the State Government Records Destruction Notice or form of your choosing:

  • “Records Title as Shown on RDA”

Fill in the Records Title for each record type, which appear in bold in the RDA document section entitled “Records Disposition Requirements.”

  • “Retention as Shown on RDA”

Fill in the minimum retention as listed in the RDA document section entitled “Records Disposition Requirements” (for example, “Retain 3 years” or “Retain 2 years following audit”).  

  • “Inclusive Dates”

For each record type, include the earliest and latest dates that the records were created (for example, “1998,” “May-November 2019,” or “2000-2010”).

  • “Date Audited”

Some retentions are dependent on audit date. If the retention in the RDA mentions an audit date, identify when these records were made available for audit. If the retention does not mention an audit, write “N/A” for Not Applicable.

Note: Do not list your state agency’s most recent audit. Specify when the records were made available for audit. For example, consider a state agency that has been audited in 2010 and 2017. The agency is submitting a destruction notice that includes records with a minimum retention “Retain 2 years following audit” and which were created in 2008 and audited in 2010. The agency should write “2010” in this field, as this was the audit cycle in which the 2008 records were made available.

  • “Format”

The format or medium of the records (paper or electronic).   

  • “Volume”

The volume of the paper records being destroyed in cubic feet and/or electronic records being destroyed in bytes.

Paper Records

Paper RecordsList how many cubic feet are being
destroyed for each record type
1 Box of Copy Paper1 Cubic Foot
1 Banker’s Box2 Cubic Feet
1 Legal-Sized File Drawer2 Cubic Feet
Fifty 100 Foot 35mm Microfilm1 Cubic Foot
3×5 Cards, Ten 12″ Rows1 Cubic Foot
3 Large Bound Volumes1.5 Cubic Feet

Electronic Records

Electronic RecordsList how many bytes (B, KB, MB, GB, TB, or PB)
are being destroyed
1 Byte (B)8 Bits
1 Kilobyte (KB)1,024 Bytes
1 Megabyte (MB)1,024 Kilobytes
1 Gigabyte (GB)1,024 Megabytes
1 Terabyte (TB)1,024 Gigabytes
1 Petabyte (PB)1,024 Terabytes

Complete the Total Records Destroyed

Add up the total cubic feet and write the sum in the field entitled “For Paper Records: Total Cubic Feet.”

Add up the total bytes and write the sum in the field entitled “For Electronic Records: Total Bytes.”  

Complete the Signature Section

Ensure the appropriate authorizing official signs the notice. The notice may be signed electronically or may be printed and signed. Please remember to include the printed name and title of the authorizing official. All destruction must be reported to the Records Liaison so that they can document the destruction in the Annual RDA Implementation Report.

Destroy the Records

The SRC and LGRC do not stipulate how records should be destroyed; however, state agencies should ensure that the disposition method they use is appropriate for the records being destroyed. Records with confidential or sensitive content, such as financial information, personally identifiable information (PII), or personal health information (PHI), should be destroyed securely in a way that leaves records unreadable and unrecoverable. 

For Records Liaisons: Guide to Completing the Annual RDA Implementation Report

Each year (typically in October), the ADAH Records Management Section sends state agency Records Liaisons instructions for completing the Annual RDA Implementation Report. Records Liaisons must complete the report and submit all destruction documentation to Records Management staff by January 15th of the following year. 

Note: Failure to properly adhere to destruction procedures may result in an audit finding.

Can I Scan and Toss? Six Considerations for a Digitization Project

“If I scan a document, can I toss the paper copy?” This is one of the most common questions that Records Management Section staff hear from state and local government agencies. Perhaps your office wants to migrate records to a document management system or simply wants to move records to a shared drive for easy reference and to save space. Digital tools offer convenient ways for searching, retaining, and disposing of records, but there are a few factors that government officials should consider before embarking on a “scan and toss” project.

(1) Permanent records should be maintained in their original format, whether paper or electronic.

The State and Local Government Records Commissions, which oversee the disposition of all government records in Alabama, require that records designated as permanent be maintained in their original format. For permanent records, the medium is as historically valuable as the message – consider holding the original marriage ledger that your great-grandparents signed, versus seeing a digitized version through a screen. This means that permanent records originally created in paper format must be retained in paper format, and permanent records originally created in electronic format must be retained electronically. Permanent paper records may be digitized to increase their accessibility, but the original files must be preserved.

There is no requirement that temporary paper records be retained in paper format. Governments may digitize temporary records and discard the duplicate paper copies; however, governments must be prepared to maintain the digitized records in an accessible format for the required minimum retention specified in the appropriate Records Disposition Authority (RDA)

Note: As a general rule, local governments should consult the ADAH before destroying records which were created before 1940.

(2) Audits or expected litigation may require original documents to be kept.

Scans created to replace an original document will be considered the record copy of the document and may be subject to audit or litigation. These digitized records must meet standards that demonstrate completeness and authenticity. In some cases, auditors may insist on inspecting original documents rather than copies. Similarly, copied records may be inadmissible as evidence in court. Before copying documents and destroying the originals, consult with legal counsel to ensure that the original documents do not need to be maintained. If digitized documents are acceptable, establish and follow a standard process for digitization that preserves the accuracy and reliability of the records.

(3) Don’t spend time digitizing records that can be destroyed.

The key to an efficient records management system is promptly disposing of records that have met their minimum required retention. Why spend time and money digitizing records or migrating records from system to system that could have been disposed of years ago? These obsolete records create bulk that make active records harder to locate and use. Save time and money by disposing of records that are eligible for destruction before starting a digitization project – but be sure to follow the correct procedures (available here for state agencies and here for local governments). 

(4) Be prepared for the unique challenges of preserving electronic records.

State and local governments which scan and toss must ensure that the digitized records remain accessible and readable for their entire lifespan/retention period. Properly stored, paper records can still be accessible after centuries, but electronic records require more frequent care. Ideally, governments should follow the “3-2-1 Rule” of data storage: at least three copies stored on two different media with one copy being stored offsite. The two different media might be an agency server and cloud storage or an external hard drive. The agency’s files should be regularly backed up to the second storage location. In the event of a technological failure, natural disaster, or ransomware attack, having a backup means your agency’s records are recoverable. 

Moreover, just as the heyday of compact disks (CDs) has come and gone, today’s software systems, storage devices, and file formats will eventually become obsolete. It is not adequate for records to be stored on a computer in the basement which no one can access; records must be migrated to preserve accessibility. Migrating records takes time and resources. To avoid unplanned expenses later, research the costs of migration now.

(5) Digitization is not a replacement for organization.

Many offices digitize records for ease of searching and locating records. Search tools are limited, however, when records are poorly indexed, named, and organized. Indexing is the process of attaching metadata to a record. Metadata may sound intimidating, but it simply means descriptive information about a file such as the name, creator, creation date, and destruction eligibility date. Choose which metadata to capture before digitization to expedite records retrieval, sorting, and disposition. If digitizing files to a database or document management system, leverage its full potential by adding retention periods to records. Users can then filter search results to locate records which are eligible for destruction or receive notifications as soon as records become eligible. Vendors may offer advanced indexing options such as optical character recognition (OCR).

If digitizing records to a simple file system, you can still leverage metadata to work for you. Choose descriptive but concise file and folder names that make the contents of the file or folder clear. Avoid using special characters such as spaces, commas, and periods, which can cause files to become corrupt and irretrievable; instead, use underscores to separate words. Including dates in file names makes it easier to dispose of records when they have met their required retention. Finally, records should be systematically sorted, whether before or after digitization occurs. Create folders based on the records series in the RDA to make retention and disposition easier, or organize by subject, date, event, or other method. No matter the approach, consistency is key.

(6) Perform quality control.

As mentioned in consideration #2, offices that choose to scan and toss (or the vendors they hire to do so) should establish quality control standards that preserve the accuracy and reliability of records. Save scanned images in stable and high-quality file formats. For documents, a resolution of 300 DPI (dots per inch) in TIFF or PDF/A (the archival-quality version of PDF) format is a good choice. Contact the ADAH Records Management Section for recommendations for other document types. Lastly, verify the accuracy and consistency of scans, ensuring all files and pages are accounted for.

The takeaway from these points is that while digitization may be convenient in some ways for managing records, it can also complicate the preservation of records. Still have questions or feel you could benefit from tailored guidance? The Records Management Section offers free training and advice to Alabama’s state agencies and local governments. Reach out to Rebecca Hebert, State and Local Government Records Coordinator, at 334-353-5039 or becky.hebert@archives.alabama.gov.

Celebrating National Photography Month: Exploring the ADAH Photograph Collections

The Alabama Department of Archives and History has millions of photographs in its collections, spanning from as early as 1840 to the modern day. Whether researching your ancestry or a specific person, place, or subject, a photograph can be an exciting discovery. To celebrate National Photography Month this May, the Alabama Department of Archives and History is providing a bird’s eye view of our photograph collections, answering some frequently asked questions, and sharing some photographic jewels.

Many photos in the ADAH collections have been digitized and made available through our Digital Collections portal (digital.archives.alabama.gov). The Digital Collections contain not only digitized archival materials from the ADAH but also materials from Alabama Mosaic, a network of archival repositories throughout the state. With online access anywhere and at any time, the Digital Collections are a great place to start a search; however, since the online collection represents a small portion of the ADAH’s physical holdings, the way to find most photos is to visit the ADAH Research Room.

The collections below contain a mixture of photographs from the physical holdings and the Digital Collections. Most of these collections have finding aids within the ADAH catalog which can help researchers locate photographs which may not be digitized. To access these undigitized photos, researchers can submit a Digitization and Reproduction Order Form. Reproduction fees vary depending on the requested format and intended use; more information on file formats, fees, and payment options is available on this webpage.

Alabama Photographs and Pictures Collection

The Alabama Photographs and Pictures Collection brings together in one place digitized photographs from several collections in the ADAH archives (with the exception of the Jim Peppler Southern Courier Photograph Collection and the Alabama Media Group Collection, due to the large size of these collections). These photos cover a wide range of topics, places, and individuals from throughout the state’s history.

Jim Peppler Southern Courier Photograph Collection

The Jim Peppler Southern Courier Photograph Collection includes over 11,000 photo negatives taken by James H. “Jim” Peppler, who worked as staff photographer for the newspaper The Southern Courier from 1965 until 1968. Headquartered in Montgomery, The Southern Courier aimed to implant reporters within local communities in order to provide intimate and detailed coverage of social conditions and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama and the southern United States. Peppler captured pictures of everyday life at homes, schools, offices, and social settings, as well as momentous events and influential individuals of the 1960s. All negatives in the collection have been digitized and categorized by topic in the Digital Collections.

Children on Ms. Francis’s front porch in Newtown, a neighborhood in Montgomery, Alabama,” 1967.

Alabama Media Group Collection 

The Alabama Media Group (AMG) donated its collection of historical photographic negatives to the ADAH in December 2016. The AMG Collection contains over three million negatives taken by photographers working for The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times, and Mobile’s Press-Register between the 1920s and the early 2000s, but the majority of the negatives date from the 1960s to the 1990s.

In the physical collections, the negatives are stored in sleeves with handwritten or typed notes, each representing a photojournalism assignment. The initial phase of the digitization project involves scanning these sleeves and transcribing the notes to provide a searchable index for researchers. With this long-term initiative, select negatives have been digitized and new material is added each month; currently, however, the sleeves make up most of the digitized material.

If you find a sleeve you are interested in, first click on the “Sleeve Number” within the item description to see if any negatives in the sleeve have been scanned. If the negatives have not been digitized, researchers can submit a Digitization and Reproduction Order Form through the ADAH website. If no sleeves relate to your research topic, ADAH archivists are available to conduct research on your behalf for a small fee ($10 for Alabama residents and $25 for non-residents). Submit a research request via the ADAH website or by mail.

Coaches Bear Bryant and Shug Jordan at the 1975 Iron Bowl game at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama,”

John Engelhardt Scott Negative Collection, 1941-1989

The John Engelhardt Scott Negative Collection includes over 78,000 negatives created by John Scott, father-in-law of current ADAH Assistant Director and Archives Division Head, Mary Jo Scott! John Scott operated a commercial and advertising photography business in Montgomery from 1947 until the 1980s. The negatives document Montgomery business’s facilities (both inside and out), aerial views, portraits of individuals and families, events, organizations, schools, and churches. Over 8,000 images have been digitized and are available online. The ADAH catalog contains finding aids for both the prints and negatives. These finding aids provide a brief description for every item in the collection (such as the name of the person, place, or event portrayed) along with a date, box number, file number, and negative number.

Man receiving his keys to his new Volkswagen Beetle outside Southern Motor Imports at 501 Montgomery Street in Montgomery, Alabama,” 1962.

Alabama Folklife Collection

The Alabama Folklife Collection contains photos from the Archive of Alabama Folk Culture (AAFC) which were taken by field researchers at the Alabama Folklife Association and the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture. A selection of the photos are available in the Digital Collections. The photographs date from the 1980s to 2015 and capture Alabama folk festivals, music and performance (especially bluegrass and gospel music), art, and craftsmanship. The fieldwork slides are housed at the ADAH with an item listing available in the catalog. In the “Item” field, researchers can find the name of the subject and the location/date.

Woman leading a song during the annual Jackson Sacred Harp Sing at Union Grove Baptist Church in Ozark, Alabama,” 1990.

Alabama Writer’s Project Photograph Collection, 1901-1941

During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) funded the Federal Writers’ Project to provide employment for journalists, writers, and college instructors. This collection predominantly contains written material such as ex-slave tales and life histories composed between 1936 and 1940 but also contains photos and postcards taken or acquired for use in publications of the Alabama Writers’ Project. All 1,140 of these photos and postcards are viewable online in the Digital Collections. Photographed subjects include agriculture and daily life in schools, churches, colleges, and universities, as well as many prominent Alabamians.

Main dormitory and library at Alabama College [currently the University of Montevallo] in Montevallo, Alabama,” circa 1930-1940.

Cased Photographs Collection, circa 1840-1913

Common in the mid- to late-19th century, cased photos are typically daguerreotypes or ambrotypes mounted in a shallow, hinged box. These images feature Alabama individuals, families, and Confederate States of America soldiers. While daguerrotypes and ambrotypes were more affordable than commissioning a portrait, they were still relatively expensive for their day. As a result, this collection predominantly features wealthy Alabamians of the era. The collection also includes many tintypes, a more affordable option, but still limited to those with access to the technology. All of the cased photos have been digitized and may be accessed here. The complete finding aid provides an extensive description of each photo, including the subject’s name and the date (if known), information about the subject, any inscriptions on the photo, the type of image, and the condition of the image and case.

Elizabeth S. Mickle Cook,” circa 1850, daguerreotype.

Cartes-de-Visite Collection, circa 1860-1890

First introduced by the French photographer Andre Adolphe Eugene Disdéri in 1854, cartes de visite (calling cards) are photos mounted on individual cards about 2 x 4 inches in size. Until the 1880s, these cards were commonly exchanged in Europe and the United States. All 405 of the cartes-de-visite have been digitized and are accessible here. The complete finding aid is organized alphabetically by the subject’s surname and includes information such as birth and death dates, the subject’s title or occupation, individuals related to the subject, the name of the photographer, and any inscriptions on the item.

Robert H. Knox, C.S.A.,” circa 1860-1869.

Vertical Files

Common at most state and local archives, vertical files contain various documents and ephemera that have historic value but do not fit in any existing collection. The vertical files at the ADAH contain three collections: persons, places, and subjects. Most of the images in these collections date from the mid- to late-1800s to the early 1900s. The persons vertical file is an excellent resource for locating individuals, from ancestors to prominent Alabamians. The finding aid for the persons vertical file is organized alphabetically by surname, with information such as birth and death dates, titles or occupations, and places of residence. The places vertical file contains images of specific locations in Alabama, with a finding aid organized alphabetically by county. Under each county are listed cities, specific locations, or categories of places such as hospitals or schools. Lastly, the subjects vertical file contains images of unidentified people and locations. The finding aid is organized by general subjects which vary significantly, from animals, to flags, to textiles. Note that oversized items appear at the end of the finding aid and are organized alphabetically within each box.

People and wagons outside a clothing store in Huntsville, Alabama,” circa 1863-1865.

Note: Researchers who wish to publish photos from the ADAH collections must submit a Use Agreement Form. Material from the Alabama Media Group (AMG) Collection requires the submission of an additional form. If the photographer is unknown, the ADAH recommends consulting a Fair Use Checklist (for example, from the American Library Association) before publishing or exhibiting the photos.


Society of American Archivists. “Carte-de-visite.” https://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms/c/carte-de-visite.

Society of American Archivists. “Cased Photographs.” https://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms/c/cased-photographs.

Langberg, Karen. Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes & Tintypes: The Rise of Early Photography.” Skinner, Inc. 18 October 2011. https://www.skinnerinc.com/news/blog/daguerreotypes-ambrotypes-tintypes-the-rise-of-early-photography/.

Documenting COVID-19

Like our counterparts across the nation and the world, the government of the State of Alabama is facing a historic challenge as we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Alabama Department of Archives and History’s foremost concern at this time is the health and safety of all Alabamians; as such, the ADAH building will be closed to the public with most staff working remotely. Although onsite programming has been suspended, ADAH staff continue to serve the public from a distance, including through the recent introduction of Alabama History@Home (alabamahistoryhome.org).

Over the past few weeks, we have been amazed and inspired by the many state and local government entities meeting this challenge with new resources and creative initiatives intended to support staff members and the public at large. As the state’s government records repository and home to the state history museum, the ADAH wants to ensure that historic records documenting the pandemic and the government’s response are preserved for the future. 

State and local officials can take important steps to preserve the historical record by saving documentation related to the pandemic as it is created. Types of records that agencies should set aside include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Informational materials related to COVID-19 (paper or electronic) such as graphics, posters, guidance, newsletters, etc.
  • Press releases
  • COVID-19 committee/task force meeting minutes
  • Photographs
  • Video recordings of announcements, press conferences, etc. 
  • Administrative files of agency leaders (such as directors and commissioners) 
  • Planning and policy documentation, especially documentation of modifications to services, policies, or future plans
  • Legal opinions and guidance 
  • Important communications and correspondence with staff or external stakeholders, including email messages
  • Any other information that may be historically significant 

At this busy time, we ask that state and local officials simply set aside and save these records. The Records Management Section will work with state and local government agencies at a later time on the long-term preservation of archival records. Staff are available by email to answer questions or help in any way we can. For state and local agencies working to adapt to the new normal and to anyone doing their part to “flatten the curve,” thank you for your dedication.