Inside the vaults of the Delaware Public Archives [video]

From birth, marriage, and death records, to maps and historical photos, it’s all inside the vaults of the public archives.

The Delaware Public Archives building is nestled among museums, courthouses, and government buildings. Step inside and you’ll find a beautiful research library, just waiting for you to research anything from the history of one of Delaware’s towns, or your families’ genealogy. Three out of every four people that visit the library are doing genealogy work.

The mission of the public archives is to preserve and conserve all the records contained in its three massive vaults. The folks that work there take the job very seriously.

“We’re charged with actually protecting those documents until they are needed by a state official or a citizen,” said Thomas Summers, the manager of outreach services for the Archives.

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The library is where the public part of the archives ends. Behind various layers of security are the vaults where millions of documents are stored in secure, environmentally-controlled vaults.

Row after row of books, maps, photo boxes and records can be found. Everything from birth and marriage records to Joe Biden campaign posters can be found within the vaults. Some go back a long way.

“We have documents dating back to 1653, and we also have documents here that are dating within the last couple months that have come in,” Summers said.

Many of the old court records were wrapped in red ribbon. “We call that ribbon tape. That’s where the saying all wrapped up in government red tape actually comes from,” Summers said.

Many of the documents and pictures that come into the archives are in decent shape, those that can’t be handled are sent out for restoration work. Some just need to be unrolled or unfolded.

This can be tricky if the item has been folded for many years. That’s where trash cans come in handy.

“The way we actually get those [documents or pictures] flat is we use a trash can, we refer to it as our humidification chamber, and that humidity will actually help the document or photograph relax,” Summers said.

After about two days in the trash can, or humidification chambers, the item is taken out and placed on a table with weights to keep it flat. It is than placed in acid free folders and taken to the vaults.

There are many interesting finds at the archives, and all those records and pictures are just waiting for you to come and discover them.

“The history of Delaware is within these walls, and we are the caretakers of these documents. If we don’t take care of these documents they will eventually be destroyed, or disintegrate in some way. Its our job to preserve all these documents as well as these photographs,” Summers said. 

You can get more information on tours or library hours when you visit the Archives web site.

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