State archive building opens up in Morrow

By Justin Reedy

Christine Price found it remarkably easy to travel back in time on Tuesday.

Price, a McDonough resident, lives only a short drive away from the new Georgia Archives facility that opened this week in Morrow.

Only hours after the new archives building opened its doors to the public for the first time, Price was inside doing genealogical research on her mother's side of the family. She went home Tuesday afternoon with a copy of her great-grandparents' wedding license from 1837.

"It was nice," she said of the new facility, which replaced the state's outdated archives building in downtown Atlanta. "I had been downtown, and this is much better, having it this close. I've got to get used to the new building, but it's more spacious."

Dozens of other genealogy buffs, historians and researchers visited the archives on its grand opening day, wasting no time in getting started on looking at the state's archival records.

Ringgold resident Mark Simpson drove down to Morrow for the day to research the background of a Cherokee Indian who may have been a previous owner of some land Simpson owns now. If that's the case, Simpson said, he may be able to get the land added to the state's historical registry because the former owner was transplanted during the Trail of Tears Indian relocation.

"I've been waiting for several months to do this research," Simpson said. "I think this place is great. It's very comfortable and the staff is very friendly."

Corey Johnson, who lives in Stockbridge, was at the new state archives Tuesday to do research in an area of personal interest to him n the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which was started in the 1940s. Having made several trips to the former archives building in downtown Atlanta, Johnson is thrilled with the new facility but has always been happy with the state's archivists.

"I do research in lots of different states, and the archivists here make all the difference," Johnson said. "They bend over backwards for you. The facility here is very nice."

Johnson plans on coming back to do research into Georgia's many governors, whose correspondence and other documents are usually kept in the state archives.

"I want to just get a tone, get a feel for what they were thinking about," he explained. "I might even do some genealogical research later. There's so much here."

Researchers visiting the archives aren't the only ones excited about the new facility. For state archives director David Carmicheal, the building represents the culmination of more than two years of work that started about the time he began working in his current position.

"There's a part of me that's glad it's over, but I've already thought about the thousand or so projects I've put off until the move was over," Carmicheal said. "When I came here 2 ? years ago, I stepped right into this project. I had all of these visions for what we could do, but this project sort of consumed all of our energy. In some ways, the opening of this building relieves some of my frustration, because there's all of these things I've been chomping at the bit to do, and now I can do them."

The new facility has many improvements over the old building in downtown Atlanta, including an exhibition area for the public.

"One of the problems with the existing building is that the public is locked off from the records," Carmicheal said. "We have no exhibit areas there n that's a nice addition for us."

Other improvements at the new facility include on-site laboratories for records recovery, digitization, and microfilm creation, as well as much more spacious public record viewing areas and reading rooms.

The new $26 million building is needed because the existing facility in downtown Atlanta is outdated and overflowing, officials say, and the building itself is sinking slowly into the ground. The new building is about 30,000 square feet larger than the original building, which should help the state accommodate records for many years to come.

"I believe this will be the last archives facility the state will ever have to build," Carmichael said. "With the expanded capacity, and the fact that digital record keeping is coming to the forefront, means this facility should always be able to meet our needs."

Some of the historically significant documents now housed in Morrow include Georgia's original colonial charter, dating back to 1732, as well as minutes from meetings of the Georgia colonial trustees dating back to the 18th century, records from some of the earliest meetings of the state General Assembly, and court documents from the high-profile 1913 case of Atlanta's Leo Frank, the accused murderer who was convicted in a sensationalized trial and was later lynched.