As genealogists, we love a good library. My children are sure that their mother is just a little warped because of the amount of time I willingly spend in the library. A very close friend of mine was astounded when I actually used the Guide to Periodical Source Literature without having a term paper that required the use of it. To genealogists the library is a mecca of sorts, full of books, microfilms and other resources patiently waiting to aid us in our research.
What would you say though, if I pointed out a library that you have probably overlooked, and yet may hold records that you cannot find anywhere else? It's true, such a library exists. State libraries, often directly connected with the state archives, are major assets that we tend to not give much thought to. They are often overlooked as not being a "real" library to many genealogists.
State archives, by their existence, are major repositories of all types of records for their specific state.
What Can You Find?
In most states, the State Archive and State Library are the official repositories for the records of that state. They will generally include many of the following records:
- Vital records
- Land records
- Military records
- Family histories
- Indexes to useful collections
- Bible records
These are just a few of the resources you are likely to find.
Some time back I received a question from a researcher about tuberculosis centers in Florida. This question intrigued me. I had often heard of sending folks west, but never to Florida. In trying to locate information on this subject, I turned to the Florida State Library.
I called them and explained my dilemma. I was in need of information about sanitariums for those suffering from tuberculosis that might have been in existence in 1892. The woman on the other end of the phone line began searching the catalog on computer for their holdings and began describing some of the records that might be of use to me. I was impressed. They had quite a bit of information and she had supplied me with some great insight and details. She'd also promised to send me some more information by mail.
I confess that I was just a little surprised to receive within two days of our telephone call, a rather large manila envelope that was full of paper, all of it having to do with tuberculosis in Florida. The package included:
Of course I immediately set about digesting all this great information. I was thrilled with the effort expended on behalf of need. So I was practically shocked when a couple of days later, there was another letter from the State Library in my mail box. Additional information had been found and copied and sent on to me.
- Copies from a book published on Florida's Public Health
- Copies from the State Board of Health annual reports for the years 1891, 1892, 1893, and 1894
- Printouts from their computerized catalog of other resources available
I was able to easily answer the question from the other researcher and not only supply statistics, but also offer a history of sorts to the creation of the tuberculosis sanitariums in Florida. And this was all possible because I had contacted the State Archives.
Learning More About Their Holdings
Like all resources that we rely on, it is important to familiarize yourself with the holdings of the State Archives and State Libraries. Very often you will find that a booklet or guide has been published that outlines the holdings and other information about the State Archives or Library. To find out if such a publication exists, you may want to visit the web page for the State project under the USGenWeb project.
What's Available Online?
I have already described one way in which I found out about the holdings of a State Library. While the telephone is a great resource, it is not always convenient for the librarian or other official on the other end of the line to answer your questions when you call. And I am a major proponent of the idea that I should do as much for myself as possible. Fortunately, the Internet makes that an option in regards to at least being able to search the catalogs of many of the state libraries and archives.
The Library of Congress has put together a page of links to lead you to the online sites for the various state libraries. The Library of Congress State Library Web Listing page shows each state in alphabetical order with links to the various archives and libraries. Not all of these sites will have searchable databases. But even if they don't the site is still full of information, including:
- Hours of operation
- Location (and sometimes directions)
- Information as to their holdings
- Special requirements to use their resources
- Services offered
So the next time you find yourself at a loss as to where to turn next, trying turning in the direction of the State Archives and the State Library. You may be very glad that you did.
Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is an award-winning author of several genealogy how-to books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, The Genealogist's Computer Companion, and Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See more advice from Rhonda in her columns Expert Tips, Tigs and Trees, and Overheard in the Message Boards.