"I can't imagine how I'd be able to write this book without the archives assembled under his oversight," Crenson said.

One of the most practical applications of Papenfuse's work has been in real estate.

James Cosgrove, past president of the Maryland Land Title Association, said that as recently as the early 1990s, Maryland land records were almost entirely on paper and spread through the courthouses of 24 jurisdictions.

"It would take weeks to get copies of documents that were necessary to create a title and go to settlement," Cosgrove said.

With money from a document recording fee Papenfuse helped get through the legislature, the archives began the massive task of indexing records going back to the 1600s and putting them online. Now a title researcher can work from home or an office.

"It's practically instantaneous now," Cosgrove said. "You don't have to go to the courthouse." The streamlined process, he said, saves buyers and sellers money when they go to the settlement table.

Baker, Papenfuse's deputy for 11 years, said his boss was a national pioneer in making government records available online even before the rise of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s.

"Ed saw the power of the Internet long before it was popular to see that," Baker said.

One of the few officials who can match Papenfuse's endurance is Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who entered the Senate the same year Papenfuse was named archivist. Miller, who shares a passion for Maryland's past, said Papenfuse has played a vital role in the restoration of a State House that dates to 1772.

"He's a stickler for accuracy and he's also a great advocate for the preservation of our records — including the records of the counties — so future historians can have access," Miller said.

Baker will serve in an acting capacity until Papenfuse is replaced. The next archivist will be appointed by the governor after a recommendation from the Hall of Records Commission.

Papenfuse said he plans an active retirement that will include work on two books about Maryland history.

"I just want to stress that I'm grateful to serve," he said. "Hopefully I've given as much back as I could in kind, which means to me making accessible the public memory."

michael.dresser@baltsun.com