historical fiction books | historical romance books

Sixty Sensational Online Historical Archive Collections

By Ana Brazil
June 11, 2021

It’s International Archives Week (June 7-11), and yes, it’s also MuseumWeek 2021. What an embarrassment of cultural riches we have!

Paper Lantern Writers celebrates the week with a round-up of Sixty Sensational Online Historical Archive Collections. If you remember our May celebration of National Library Week (Fifty Fabulous Online Library Historical Collections), you might be wondering…”What’s the difference between a library and an archive?”

Here’s an explanation from former PLW historian and archivist Lynn Downey:

The difference between libraries and archives is very simple. Libraries hold published books, ebooks, audiobooks, and films which people can take home to enjoy. Archives hold primary sources: letters, diaries, photographs, pamphlets, etc. If you want to use these materials to write a book, make a movie, search for ancestors, or write a school paper, you can only handle them in the archive itself. Luckily, most archives have digitizing programs so they can share their materials online with more users and researchers. All of these pieces of history are unique and irreplaceable, and making them available digitally helps preserve the originals.

Hope you enjoy these sixty (plus!) collections. All archive and collection descriptions come directly from the archive website. If you’ve got any online collections to recommend, we’d love to hear about them in our comments section.


Illinois Digital Archives

Cornelia Neltnor Anthony and Frank D. Anthony Book Plate Collection via Illinois Digital Archives

“Created in 2000 as a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library as well as other libraries and cultural institutions in the State of Illinois.“

  • Art Institute of Chicago Exhibition Catalogues – This collection consists of Art Institute exhibition catalogues dating from 1882 to 1930. The catalogues document the earliest exhibitions of many important artists who studied and worked in Illinois, such as Walt Disney, William A. Harper, Archibald J. Motley, Jr., Georgia O’Keeffe, William Edward Scott, and Grant Wood.
  • Cornelia Neltnor Anthony and Frank D. Anthony Book Plate Collection – The result of Ms. Anthony’s effort of collecting book plates over a 14-year time period. Her book plate collection consists of approximately 10,000 book plates, is international in scope, and was at one time considered by many librarians to be second only to that of the Library of Congress.
  • Lincolniana – Materials related to United States President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865).
  • Peoria Postcards – Postcards of images of Peoria.
  • Pullman in the First World War – The Pullman Company and town played an important role in America’s efforts in World War One. This collection displays artifacts that describe the efforts and sacrifices of Pullmanites from the 1916 Punitive Expedition to Mexico, the war itself, the 1919 Spanish Flu epidemic, to the 1920 intervention during the Russian Civil War.
  • World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 from the Field Museum – Official records, objects and photographs, as well as personal memorabilia from the Fair, such as the Robbins Family Scrapbook containing hundreds of fascinating items collected during the family’s seven visits to the Exposition.


Time travel with us. Read our Historical Fiction Books


Golden Gate National Recreational Area Archives

Alcatraz Island via GGRNA Archives

“One of more than 400 national park units across the country….The Park Archives and Records Center [PARC] contains over 5 million documents, photographic images, oral histories and maps that document all areas and facets of the history associated with Golden Gate National Recreation Area.”

  • Alcatraz Island – Alcatraz Island has a unique and varied history of identities, including a seacoast fortification, federal penitentiary, natural preserve, and a land occupied by Native Americans. In this gallery, explore albums targeting these and other topics, including the Army period, federal prison period, Indian occupation, contemporary, and projects and events.
  • Coastal Defenses and Artillery – Images relating to coastal defenses and artillery in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
  • Fort Point & Golden Gate – Fort Point, an Army fortification completed just before the Civil War, sits at the mouth of the San Francisco Bay…. [Includes] historic and contemporary images, including projects and events and the Golden Gate.
  • General Troop Activity and Military Life – Images of general troop activity and military life from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s past.
  • Presidio of San Francisco – Established in 1776, the Presidio of San Francisco has existed as a military fortification under Spanish, Mexican, and American rule….In this gallery, explore historic and contemporary images of the general Presidio (including Battery Chamberlin, Baker Beach, and Camp Merritt and Merriam), Crissy Field, Fort Scott, and the Letterman Medical Campus.



Archives@Victoria collection via DigitalNZ

“Brings together over 30 million digital items from over 200 different organisations all around Aotearoa. We aggregate New Zealand-related material so that it can be easily searched on one wesbsite. Our content partners include libraries, museums, galleries, government departments, media organisations, community groups, and many others.”


State Archives of North Carolina

Food and Cooking Collection via State Archives of North Carolina

“Contains over 90,000 historic and recent photographs, state government publications, manuscripts, and other resources on topics related to North Carolina.”

  • African American Education – Documents and photographs related to African American education in North Carolina before 1950 drawn from the collections of the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum and the State Archives of North Carolina.
  • Carolina Christmas – A selection of materials related to celebrations of the Christmas, New Years, and Thanksgiving holidays.
  • Early Newspapers from the State Archives of North Carolina – This initiative includes more than 1,000 titles published from 1751 to 1898 with the goal of preserving these papers for future researchers.
  • Food and Cooking Collection – Food and cooking related materials from the collections of the State Archives of North Carolina.
  • State Fair – North Carolina State Fair materials like premium lists, programs, and photographs.


American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, Laramie

Northern California Resettlement Newspaper from the Heart Mountain Relocation Center Records, via the AHC.

“The AHC is responsible for maintaining the University’s Archives, and for collecting, preserving, and disseminating the historical documentation of select aspects of cultural heritage at the local, state, national, and even international levels.” Suggested by Lynn Downey.

  • Buffalo Bill Collection – Focuses primarily on the operations of “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show” from 1884 to 1916.
  • Grace Robinson Papers – Papers of a nationally known woman journalist.
  • Heart Mountain Relocation Center Records – The Heart Mountain Relocation Center was one of ten camps mandated by the War Department in 1942 to detain Americans of Japanese ancestry. Collection contains the Heart Mountain charter, community minutes, notes on resettlement plans, transcripts of a trial, and documents in Japanese.
  • Ludwig & Svenson Studio – A family owned photography studio in Laramie, Wyoming during the twentieth century. The collection contains negatives, interpositives, and prints.
  • Nellie Tayloe Ross Papers – The first woman governor of Wyoming and first woman governor in the U.S. Collection contains materials relating to Nellie and William Ross, including scrapbooks, correspondence both personal and professional, miscellaneous materials relating to the U.S. Mint, financial records, speeches and writings, diaries, subject files and biographical information, William Ross’ campaign materials for 1922, and news releases relating to Nellie Ross as governor and Director of the U.S. Mint.


Toronto Public Library Digital Archives

Postcard Greeting Card via Toronto Public Library Digital Archives

Postcard Greeting Card via Toronto Public Library Digital Archives
“Instant access to rare historical photos, maps, books and more from Toronto Public Library“


University of Delaware, Manuscript and Archival Collections

Marie Jucht Kaufman papers via University of Delaware.

“The collections include books, periodicals, electronic resources, databases, E-Books, E-Journals, microforms, government publications, maps, manuscripts, media, and access to information via the Internet provide a major academic resource for the University of Delaware, the surrounding community, the State of Delaware, and the nation.“

  • Gertrude Käsebier papers – A small amount of handwritten and typed reminiscences, typed transcripts of the original handwritten material, and newspaper clippings collected by immediate family members to document the personal experiences of the noted American pictorial photographer.
  • Langston Hughes ephemera collection – Contains advertisements, programs, and other printed material related to the literary career of Langston Hughes.
  • Marie Jucht Kaufman papers – Documents her survival of the Holocaust through letters written to her son, American writer and artist Alan Kaufman, between 1993 and 1994.
  • Robert B. McKee papers – Correspondence, military orders, medical supply inventories, casualty reports, and other material related to service as a surgeon in the 1st Delaware Calvary regiment during the Civil War.
  • Suffrage collection – Comprises ephemera, pamphlets, books, and realia that relate to the campaign for women’s voting rights.
  • Voices of 1968 oral history collection – Focused on Delawareans to capture local stories of that pivotal year in American history.


San Diego Air & Space Museum Library & Archives

Lafayette Escadrille, Flight Log via San Diego Air & Space Museum Library & Archives

“Houses one of the largest collections of Air & Space-related books and archival materials in the country.”


Sonoma State University, Special Collections

California Folklore via Sonoma State University

”We manage resources, both print and digital, assist the community in using library resources, and provide a welcoming environment that facilitates collaboration and creativity.” More thanks to Lynn!

  • California Folklore – Documents various aspects of North Bay history, with a focus on beliefs, customs & folkways; place names & folk speech; historical characters, outlaws, miners & lumbermen; legends, tales & anecdotes; pioneer stories & personal reminiscences; and children’s lore & folklore in the schools.
  • Earthquake of 1906 – Photographs and correspondence gathered from several special collections depicting the impact of the 1906 earthquake on Sonoma County.
  • Environmental History – Documents, photographs, clippings, and ephemera related to the pioneering role Sonoma County and northern California played in actively addressing environmental issues.
  • North Bay Historic Preservation – Images of historic homes, commercial buildings, and rural structures illuminating a significant component of the region’s social, cultural, and anthropological history.
  • Roy Maxwell Talbot – Photographs, artifacts, and documents from the private collection of Roy Maxwell Talbot related to his long and eventful career in China as a Chinese Maritime Customs Service official (1908-1942).


Digital Library of Georgia

Works Progress Administration (WPA) Projects in Georgia via Digital Library of Georgia

“A GALILEO initiative based at the University of Georgia Libraries that collaborates with Georgia’s Libraries, archives, museums, and other institutions of education and culture to provide access to key information resources on Georgia history, culture, and life.“

  • 19th Century Song Book Collection – American songbooks published in the nineteenth century.
  • Artwork of Savannah – A collection of 89 photographs of Savannah, Georgia, taken in 1890 and published in “Art work of Savannah” in 1893. The photographs are grouped into 10 categories: street scenes, commerce, shipping and industry, churches, culture, public buildings, plantations, homes, environs, and cemeteries.
  • Earnest Photographs – Views of locations around Athens and northeast Georgia, including structures no longer in existence as well as those still standing. Represented are university buildings, residential homes, and religious and business facilities. A considerable number of photographs of nature, particularly water and falls, are included as well as several photographs of individuals and groups, both white and African-American.
  • First-person Narratives of the American South – Documents the American South from the viewpoint of Southerners. Focuses on the diaries, autobiographies, memoirs, travel accounts, and ex-slave narratives of relatively inaccessible populations: women, African Americans, enlisted men, laborers, and Native Americans. Narratives describe Southern life between 1860 and 1920, a period of enormous change.
  • Works Progress Administration (WPA) Projects in Georgia – Photographs of WPA projects in Georgia including school construction, street repair, water improvement, public health support, and federal theater and archival projects.
  • W.W. Law Photograph Collection – (1868-2002) includes over 1,000 catalogued photographs and images taken and collected by W. W. Law and Geneva W. Law during their lifetimes. Highlights include: images of local NAACP meetings and events during the 1960s Civil Rights movement in Savannah; views of historic Savannah African American churches, structures and cemetery, as well as images of African American families and community leaders of the Savannah, Georgia area.


Hawaiʻi State Archives

Hula Dancers via the Hawaiʻi State Archives

“Ensures open government by preserving and making accessible the historic records of state government and to partner with state agencies to manage their active and inactive records.“

  • Hawaiian Music Online Photograph Exhibition – Images from the 19th century offer a window into the introduction of European music to the Hawaiian Islands and the adaptation and skill that produced music groups such as the Royal Hawaiian Military Band and…composers such as the Nā Lani ʻEhā – the four royals; David Kalākaua, Liliʻuokalani, Leleiōhoku, and Miriam Likelike.
  • King Kalakaua Photograph Exhibition – The 104 images in this digital exhibition contain all of the images found in the eight Royalty–Kalakaua folders from the State Archives’ main Photograph Collection.
  • Queen Liliuokalani Photograph Exhibition – The 120 images in this digital exhibition contain all of the images found in the seven Royalty–Liliʻuokalani folders from the State Archives’ main Photograph Collection


The National Archives

“Capt. Della H. Raney, Army Nurse Corps, who now heads the nursing staff at the station hospital at Camp Beale, CA, has the distinction of being the first Negro nurse to report to duty in the present war…” via The National Archives.

“The nation’s record keeper. Of all documents and materials created in the course of business conducted by the United States Federal government, only 1%-3% are so important for legal or historical reasons that they are kept by us forever.“


The National Archives (UK)

Domesday Book via the National Archives (UK).

“These research guides help you access online collections….Charges may apply.”

Ana Brazil

Written by Ana Brazil

Ana Brazil writes historical crime fiction celebrating bodacious American heroines. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Historical Novel Society, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers.
Ana’s latest historical mystery is THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE, which features murder, mayhem, and music in 1919 San Francisco. Her award-winning historical mystery FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER is set in Gilded Age New Orleans.

View Ana’s PLW Profile

Share This Post


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *