Best of 2001: Genealogy at University Libraries

By Diane Haddad

We told you all about the family history treasures waiting in college and university libraries in the April 2001 Family Tree Magazine.

Genealogists don’t often think of popping over to the nearest academic library for ancestor searching, so I’m posting part of that article, written by University of Houston librarian Gay Carter, for the 2001 installment of our 10th-Annivesary “best of” series:

University libraries are particularly noted for special collections of government documents, microfilm, microfiche, local history materials, ethnic resources, and rare books and manuscripts. Some universities have archives housed separately from the general library. Here’s a sampling of microform collections especially interesting to family historians:

  • American Culture Series, 1493-1875 (University Microfilms): publications on all aspects of American life. Here you’d find, for example, History of the Old Cheraws, about South Carolina, 1730-1810, originally published in 1867. The American Farrier and Family Medical Companion, published in 1852, gives advice on popular medical remedies.
  • Confederate Imprints (Research Publications): official and unofficial publications of the Confederacy. It contains such items as the organization of the army, instructions for mail carriers, hymn books and sheet music.
  • History of Women (Research Publications): publications by and about women up to about 1920. An Essay on the Education and Genius of the Female Sex (1795) and The Good Housekeeper (1839) are just two examples.
  • Western Americana (Xerox University Microfilms): publications about and contemporary with each successive frontier. The Navigator: Containing Directions for Navigating the Monongahela, Allegheny, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers …, published in 1814, was a guide for travelers. Miners and Business Men’s Directory for the Year Commencing January 1st, 1856 could help trace a participant in the gold rush.

Special collections often aren’t indexed in the library’s catalog. Be sure to ask a reference librarian about any special holdings that may aid your research.

Carter also recommends visiting college and university libraries for histories, chronologies, bibliographies, biographical directories, directories, newspapers, maps and atlases and state codes and law reports. (Update: While working on today’s e-mail newsletter about this post, I came across a University of Cincinnati Libraries blog post about church records in its collection—specifically mentioning a church my German ancestors may have attended.)

Make sure you check the library visitor policy before you go. You may have to flash your driver’s license or get a special ID badge.

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