America's past has jumped off the page and landed in this digital library.
Libraries' special collections can be either a blessing or a curse. The potential clues in their rare, old materials are a family history buff's dream — unless those one-of-a-kind sources are in a library halfway across the country.
Enter the Making Of America, or MOA for short. This free special-collections department transports rare books and journals to your computer desktop via the Web. It's a collaborative effort between the University of Michigan and Cornell University, with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. MOA concentrates on primary sources of American social history from the antebellum period through Reconstruction. It's particularly strong in US history, education, psychology, religion, science, sociology and technology — subjects that examine many aspects of your ancestors' lives. About 8,500 books and 50,000 articles from the universities' special collections have been scanned and put online.
That's the good news. The bad news is that MOA is actually two different sites (which isn't clear) with two different collections: the University of Michigan site, which we'll call MOA I <moa.umdl.umich.edu>, and the Cornell University site, MOA II <moa.cit.comell.edu/moa>. This wouldn't be too bad if the sites had a common search engine (said to be in the works). But the system has three search engines, two different ways of searching and two ways of browsing. This can be confusing — and you might miss relevant material if you don't realize how the system's set up.