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Some Major Genealogical Libraries and Repositories of Interest

There are major collections of genealogically important source materials located in libraries all across the United States. It is very likely that important source material is located in a library nearby where you live and where your ancestors lived. As a genealogical researcher, you cannot afford to ignore local libraries and the collections they contain.

While local libraries usually contain valuable information that may not be available at any other location, there are also some major genealogical libraries and repositories that hold huge collections of genealogical value that you will want to visit when you are in the area. Many, if not most, of these libraries now have catalogues and descriptions of their materials online. For a start, you may wish to review the state-by- state list of significant libraries at the Directory of Genealogy Libraries in the U.S. This list is not exhaustive and is missing many of the larger university libraries with significant collections, but it is a good start.

Types of Libraries with Genealogical Sources

Local Public Libraries, County, or Private Regional Libraries

You may be familiar with your local public library and are wondering if that facility could really have anything of genealogical interest. The local librarian may even tell you that they do not have any genealogical collections … STOP, rethink this impression! Many public libraries have archives of local newspapers. Local libraries may have histories, contributed surname books and even photographs and contributed personal memoirs or papers. Library staff are not always aware of how we use the materials, or what materials they hold that will benefit genealogists. The librarian of the local library in Morgan County, Utah told us that they send everyone to the LDS FamilySearch Library as they don’t have anything of value for family history research. The Morgan County historian office is located in the rear of the library building and it is full of great stuff for family historians. Be sure to browse the historical and biographical collections in local libraries, you will surprised by what is available.

Sometimes county or regional libraries are not much larger than a local public library, but there are some notable exceptions. Some of the huge, nationally known genealogy libraries listed below, started out as local, county, or regional libraries. Look for the same kinds of materials that may be found in a local library, but for a larger geographic area. Two important examples are the Newberry Library in Chicago, Illinois and Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, both of which have major genealogical collections.

College and University Libraries

It is not uncommon for people to donate their personal papers, letters and other documents to a university or college library. Many collection contain information on individuals and families that are extremely valuable for family history research. For example, the Special Collection & Archives at Georgia State University Library collects and preserves unique and rare historical materials including the heritage of workers and their unions in the South and elsewhere, they hold photograph collections such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographic Archive, oral histories containing personal accounts of people’s lives and the events they observed or participated in, they also have a rare book collection and much more. It is worth your time to become familiar with the holdings in your local college or university library.

State Libraries and Archives

Every state in the U.S. has a state library and/or Archive. Some of these are so incredibly extensive that they should be considered national treasures. The best example is the Washington State Digital Archives that has almost 110 million records preserved and over 35 million of them searchable online for free. The problem is that few people and even few genealogists know these resources exist.

Major Private and Public Libraries

Here is a list of some major libraries and repositories across the U.S., some of which have already been mentioned:

Examples of Resources Available from these Libraries

The Library of Congress is good place to to illustrate the vast resources available in these libraries. One free online database to search on Library of Congress site is the Chronicling America, Historical American Newspapers. It is a huge resource with almost 5 million pages of indexed and digitized newspapers and a directory of nearly every newspaper with holdings and location published in America since 1690. The Library of Congress has one of the largest collections of genealogies and local histories in the world. Many of the Library’s holdings can be obtained through Interlibrary Loan.

We also need to highlight the FamilySearch Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. To get an idea of the massive amount of records held in this collection go to the catalog and do an author search under “Last or Corporate Name” and type in “State Archives” or “County” you will be amazed by the amount of data that is available through the Family Search Library from government repositories. The collection includes more than 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records; 727,000 microfiche; 356,000 books, serials, and other formats; over 4,500 periodicals and 3,725 electronic resources. Records available are from the United States, Canada, the British Isles, Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa.

Another example is the Newberry Library in Chicago, Illinois. One extraordinary free online resource from the Newberry is the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries with an interactive map and text explanations of all of the boundary changes of all of the counties in the U.S.

The Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has over 400 free databases available for searching. They have also compiled a huge database of the contents more than 1.9 million citations from more than 6,500 genealogy and local history periodicals (journals, magazines, etc.) published in the United States and Canada (in both French and English), Britain, Australia and Ireland called the Periodical Source Index. PERSI is available on HeritageQuestOnline.com through many local libraries. PERSI is also available as part of Ancestry.com.

The New England Historic Genealogical Society houses millions of documents, manuscripts, records, books, microfilms, photographs, artifacts, electronic resources, and other items. The collection is, of course, very significant for records from New England. 

These are just a few major libraries with significant collections that you want to know about and use. We invite you to attend our Family History Library Retreat at the FamilySearch Library in Salt Lake City April 7-12, 2014. Come let us assist you with the collections available to you there. This library has the largest genealogy collection under one roof in the entire world and our professionals have more than 1,000 hours experience using the collections. One week’s concentrated effort on your family history at the FamilySearch Library will yield more results than years of research on the ground. We look forward to assisting you with your personal research projects.

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