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Date: April 18, 2011
Contact: Anne Strong
Telephone: (301) 279-9697

History Associates’ Steve Swisdak Speaks at American Bar Association Conference on the Hidden Potential of Historical State and Local Records

Steve Swisdak, deputy director of litigation research at historical research firm History Associates Incorporated, spoke at the American Bar Association’s 40th Annual Conference on Environmental Law on March 17. His presentation, entitled “Digging Deeper: Uncovering the Hidden Potential of Historical State and Local Records,” offered an overview of the types of records that can be found in state and local records collections and how they have been proven useful in environmental litigation matters.

“You might be surprised at the wealth of information that is available in state and local archives,” said Mr. Swisdak. “If you know where to look, you can find documents that can be dispositive in environmental cases.” Mr. Swisdak illustrated his point with several examples. In one case, historians consulted the annual reports of the Massachusetts State Health Department for information on public health and pollution-related complaints, but they didn’t stop there. They found that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection library keeps the original field notes used to produce these annual reports as well. In another example, Swisdak explained how local Recorder’s offices often keep real property records for federal facilities in their jurisdiction – information that can be difficult to obtain through the National Archives.

Mr. Swisdak discussed a variety of other state and local records of interest to environmental law practitioners, including historical photographs, maps, and local newspapers. He reviewed the agencies where these records might be found, including the municipal or county clerk’s office, the local public works department, and even local historic preservation offices.

The presentation concluded with pointers on submitting effective Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. “Keep in mind, you are basically asking an agency records officer, who probably knows little if anything about your topic, to conduct research on your behalf into his agency’s records,” said Mr. Swisdak. “The more information you can provide in your FOIA request, the more likely you are to get relevant records.”

Following his presentation, Mr. Swisdak circulated guides to researching three types of common environmental matters: “Identifying and Characterizing PRPs,” “CERCLA Claims against the Federal Government,” and “Industrial Site Histories and Corporate Genealogy.” A copy of Mr. Swisdak’s presentation is available on the History Associates website at

About History Associates
For more than thirty years the historians and archivists at History Associates have demonstrated that history is valuable in the market as well as the marketplace of ideas. They provide professional corporate histories, exhibit content, interpretive planning, historical research, archival services, and collections management services to clients throughout the United States and around the world. History Associates strives to be The Best Company in History®, serving corporate, government, legal, and nonprofit clients from its headquarters in Rockville, Maryland. For more information, call (301) 279-9697 or visit

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