Monday, January 12, 2015

Hidden Resource: Researching Local Businesses and Business Owners Using the Alabama Secretary of State’s Website

The other day, a patron requested information on the Memorial Mound in Bessemer. Not being familiar with this particular place, I checked the usual sources such as city directories and our newspaper clipping files. After coming up empty-handed, I turned to one of my favorite resources, the Alabama Secretary of State’s website, specifically the Government Records Inquiry database. While it may not sound exciting, this website is a wonderful way to research local businesses, business owners, or non-profits (churches, civic groups, etc.). Any entity that files for incorporation in Alabama is included in the database which provides the date of incorporation, names of officers, address, status (existing, dissolved, merged, etc.), and type of business. Sometimes businesses file annual reports which can be purchased, along with the papers of incorporation, from the Secretary of State. And did I mention that it’s free?

A quick search on Memorial Mound yielded all of the above information (btw, it was a cemetery). While not every entry is complete, it’s a great way to confirm the existence of a business and to get an approximate idea of its lifespan. You can also search for the names of the officers/incorporators. This is helpful for genealogists who know their ancestors were business owners but are unsure about the dates or names of the companies they built. The website doesn't give any information detailing how far back their records go, but I’ve seen entries from as early as the 1890s. Even if a business or non-profit’s original incorporation was not recorded, they can still be included if they merged or changed their name. For instance, a search for the Woodlawn Baptist Church reveals that they changed their name to Liberty Park Baptist Church in 1994 and gives their date of formation as December 17, 1891. Try playing around with this database the next time you hit a brick wall. It’s quick, easy to use, and don’t forget free! Most other states have similar databases. Follow the links for Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Carolina to name a few.

M.B. Newbill
Southern History Department
Central Library

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