Genealogists like nothing more than finding a new library and getting lost in it. Libraries have such hidden treasures, that we happily return to them again and again. And when we learn about a new library with resources that might be of help, then we can barely contain ourselves. However, there are libraries that few of us are even aware of, the Presidential Libraries.
Presidential Libraries are responsible for the preservation of the Presidential and private papers for the past Presidents. Now, before you get too excited, most Presidents do not have these libraries. Prior to 1955 there was no official system for the preservation of these papers. In most cases, when a President's term was over, his records were dispersed and unfortunately some of them were destroyed. Eventually many of them wound up in the Library of Congress.
Prior to 1955, there was no official system for the preservation of Presidential papers.
Which President Was First?
There is some question as to which President's Library came first. While Rutherford B. Hayes' library was completed in 1919, it currently does not fall under the auspices of the National Archives, as the other libraries do. So, if you visit the National Archives you will see no mention of President Hayes library.
Under the auspices of the National Archives, they consider the library of Franklin D. Roosevelt, completed in 1946, to be the first Presidential Library. While other Presidential Libraries have modeled themselves after the Hayes' Library, it was Roosevelt's Library that motivated Congress.
President Roosevelt's Library a Big Success
In 1939, President Roosevelt donated both his personal papers as well as his Presidential papers to the Federal Government. He felt it was essential that the papers of the President should be made available to everyone. He strongly believed that these papers were a piece of history. President Roosevelt felt so intensely about this, that he donated a part of his Hyde Park estate for the housing of these papers. It would be seven years, though, before his library was completed and opened to the public.
However, because it was such a success, it grabbed the attention of Congress. They passed a Congressional Act in 1955. The act was to assure the preservation of Presidential papers along the lines of the library set up by President Roosevelt. Interestingly enough one of the stipulations of the act, is that the funds for the building of the library must be from donations. No Federal funds are involved. Once the library has been finished and is opened, it then falls under the direction of the National Archives.
Finding Information on the Libraries
At the present time the National Archives recognizes 11 Presidential Libraries. However, as was mentioned earlier, there is the Hayes Library that they do not recognize. Below is a list of the Presidents as links to their official web pages.
Each of the currently open Presidential Libraries has a web site.
Presidential libraries have a number of different resources available. And the Rutherford B. Hayes Library has some 12,000 volumes of genealogical books. President Hayes was heavily involved in the researching of his family tree. His web site has pages devoted to his ancestors and his descendants.
All of the Presidential Libraries have museums that you are encouraged to visit. These museums chronicle the life of the President, usually with special attention paid to their years as President. If you are planning to travel where one of these libraries is located, don't pass up the chance to visit them.
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 [email protected].
See more advice from Rhonda in her columns Expert Tips, Tigs and Trees, and Overheard in the Message Boards.