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R.I. puts historic records online

PROVIDENCE — In 1957, the Davol Rubber Company distributed a handy booklet for expectant mothers in Rhode Island. Among the bits of advice: Before you head to the delivery room, make sure you leave your husband plenty of prepared meals so he won’t go hungry. The 28-page booklet is one of scores of historic documents, records and odds and ends in the Rhode Island State Archives that are now available for viewing online. The digital collection includes an 1803 letter from President Thomas Jefferson to the state’s governor, a list of soldiers who served in the War of 1812 and a curious photo of Red Sox great Ted Williams posing with a 557-pound tuna he caught off Point Judith.

The online archive — — is intended to be used by researchers, genealogists, schoolchildren, journalists and anyone with an interest in the state’s history, according to Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, who oversees the State Archives.

“It puts history at your fingertips,” Mollis said. “The whole goal is to give people information about Rhode Island’s history in an incredibly accessible way.”

A quick search of the online collection yields several surprising finds.

• A list of the dozens if not hundreds of Rhode Island soldiers who succumbed to the 1918 flu pandemic while serving in World War I.

• An 1862 telegram from President Abraham Lincoln requesting 50,000 troops from Gov. William Sprague to fight in the Civil War.

• Incredible photos of the devastation caused by the Hurricane of 1938.

• A copy of the act giving women the right to vote.

• A meandering, reverent history of the state’s most famous chicken breed, the Rhode Island Red.

New material is added to the online collection regularly.

“Sometimes the oddest things get people really excited and intrigued,” State Archivist Gwenn Stearn said. “The idea is to get it together all in one place and get it online.”

For some of the archives’ best material, however, take a trip to its downtown Providence office. That’s where the originals are kept — including letters from George Washington, writings of Roger Williams, royal decrees and a police baton used to dispel looters in the Hurricane of 1938. And the state’s own copy of the Bill of Rights.

“We have so many fascinating things,” Stearn said. “And they’re not our archives. They’re the people’s archives.”

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