Essential research facilities

Even in an Internet age, there’s no substitute for great genealogical libraries or appropriate historical societies. You never know what you’ll turn up digging around the filing cabinet folders or a section of the bookshelves. (Come to think of it, many of my early correspondents were people who’d written letters that were included in the folders – those addresses at the beginning of the letters or included on family charts were valuable in more than one way, as it turned out.)

Sometimes, finding myself at a dead end on what I’d come to investigate, I’d start opening books in the section I was working only to find answers to other ancestral lines.

A few treks up to the Case Western Reserve Historical Society’s acclaimed library in Cleveland provided crucial material at the beginning of my research. In an ironic twist, the core of its collection had been in the public library in the city where I was living, more than an hour away.

Floyd Hodson provided me with many notes collected in similar trips to the Fort Wayne, Indiana, public library, which claims to have the second-largest genealogical library in the country. From his photocopies I gleaned contacts for fellow researchers who helped flesh out our findings.

Sometimes a library may offer the “haystack” where the proverbial needle-in-the-haystack just might be discovered. The 14 filing boxes of papers in Albert Cook Myers collection at the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester, Pennsylvania, just might have a line that solves our questions about Orphan George’s tragic Atlantic crossing, along with names of his siblings and parents. It would take a dedicated researcher, though – one willing to order the two-box-a-day maximum well in advance.

For Quakers, opportunities to use the archives at Swarthmore and Guilford colleges in America or at Friends House in London can be, well, heavenly. For that matter, the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society in Pennsylvania is a trove for Pennsylvania Dutch family data spanning other denominations as well.

This points as well to the importance of specialized collections, since ethnic as well as religious denominational or regional considerations may require much different approaches. African-American research, for example, is quite different from French-Canadian or Irish.


Considering your own roots, what libraries and historical societies (among other possibilities) have you found especially helpful in your research? Which ones hold special memories? Are there ones you frequent? Which ones are on your “bucket list”? What tips do you have to share with those starting out? Any you think we should avoid?


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