Genealogical Research Libraries in the United States
My favorite research libraries in order from East to West:
- Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
- D.A.R. Library, Washington, D.C.
- Western Reserve Historical Society Library, Cleveland
- Allen County Public Library, Ft. Wayne
- The Filson Historical Society Library, Louisville
- The Newberry Library, Chicago
- Clayton Library for Genealogical Research, Houston
- Denver Public Library, Denver
- Family History Library, Salt Lake City
- California State Library-Sutro, San Francisco
Each of these libraries deserves its own essay of strengths, collections and policies. Watch Genealogy Articles for specific reasons to visit each of these wonderful libraries in person and on the web. For thoughts and questions to resolve in preparation for a trip to one of these libraries see Top Ten Favorite Genealogical Libraries….
Top Ten Picks
The Western Reserve, Newberry, Filson, D.A.R. and Family History Libraries are private libraries. Denver, Clayton and Allen County are public libraries owned and run by the City and County of Denver, Colorado, City of Houston, Texas and Allen County, Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Sutro in San Francisco is part of the California State Library system and the Library of Congress is our National Library in Washington, D.C.
When my daughter was young she had a trio of teachers for her first years, kindergarten, first and second grade, when good teachers teach the joy of learning and the heartache of discipline all in the same day. Patsy James, Arlene Heinz and Lisa Johnson were teachers who would not have to worry about any rating system devised. Across the hall was an another amazing, joyful, exhuberant, caring, effective teacher, Mary Zabel, who would have kept me engaged all day long as a student. I have often described her as the best teacher my daughter never had.
In that same light and admiration, the most famous library missing from my top ten list would be New England Historic Genealogical Society Library. I haven’t been to Boston in over 30 years and when I was there last, I did not research. I would now, but I didn’t then, so I can’t count it. If there were a contest I could enter to win airfare and expenses to research in Boston, I would be there in a heartbeat. Three of my favorite researchers, Martha Whitehouse, Sue Cook and Kay McDowell have long sung His-Gen’s praises, but I can’t count it in my list, I haven’t been there.
The funny thing about this list is that nine out of ten of these libraries have my book in their catalog and the one that doesn’t surprised me. It’s good to be humbled a bit.
I have a great memory from my first visit to the Newberry. Many books I wanted to read were microfilmed so instead of a book, you had a reel of film to use on the microfilm readers, especially the county histories from Illinois and Iowa written in the 1880s. I would rather have read the books, but I understood the balance between accessibility, service and preservation, so I used the microfilm. I wonder how many of those are digitized now. One of the books I ordered was in one of the special collections. After I put in my call slip, a page escorted me to the 4th floor. I was given a pencil and a piece of paper, allowed in the glass room while the book was brought out on a red velvet cradle like stand. It was perfectly quiet, the reverence for the printed word was pervasive and the whole procedure was awe inspiring. I can not remember the book, all that pageantry and I don’t remember the title. I emailed John Brady at the Newberry to ask:
- Did Newberry have red velvet book holders in the mid 1980s?
- Could I use a picture in the blog?
- Did they have a record of the title of book I requested?
We talked. In the mid 1980s, Newberry did have red velvet lined bookstands like cradles along with snakes to hold the pages apart, for use in the glassed Special Collection Reading Room on the 4th floor. I was welcome to use pictures of the current green book futons and black snakes in my blog. For security purposes, Newberry does keep call slips by date, so if I had a date, they could look up my book. If only the call slips were kept by surname! I wonder what other Henritzes have researched there.
I have been fortunate to explore many other wonderful libraries by mail, but that’s another list.