Although I’ve added links throughout this post, I hope you’ll read the article before clicking on them. Like most large web sites the Library of Congress (LOC) Home Page is, at first, confusing. I hope this article will help you the grasp the macro image of the vast resources available for public research.
The Library of Congress was formed in 1800 and has since grown to be the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts. The library’s mission “is to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations”.
The place to go for genealogical research is the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room. The Reading Room has several sections and is a virtual gold mine for genealogists. Even if you are unable to actually visit the library in Washington, I hope you’ll find that this article will at least point the way to an interesting online learning experience.
For anyone visiting the library for the first time, it’s very important to learn how to use the library. Orientation classes are taught by reference librarians and they’re described as an introduction to Genealogical Research at the LOC. Here’s the link to the Tools and Research section to see what you learn in the classes. This is a new feature added to the web site and, just in case you’re planning a visit, I’ll include the list of class dates at the end of this post.
I’ts also a good idea to read the Before You Begin section prior to your first visit, so that you become familiar with the reading room policies. There are 13 numbered items you should know, for example, it’s necessary to obtain a “Reader Identification Card” and everyone is required to read and agree to the “Local History and Genealogy Reading Room Security Policy”. In a nutshell, it covers what you can and can’t do at the library and what library staff can and can’t do for you.
In the Collections Section you’ll find what material is available to you for research. The book section is huge and there are more than 50,000 genealogies and 100,000 local histories. The collections cover North America, the British Isles, and Germans sources. It’s interesting to note that It’s one of a few libraries in the country with a collection of royalty, nobility and heraldry.
What is referred to as “Vertical Files” (probably because the material is stored in vertical filing cabinets or drawers) in the reading room contain information on family names, states towns and cities in the U.S. and much more. Additions or any correction to genealogical material is kept on file. Here’s a link to a pdf (Personal Digital Format) file of the Vertical File Subject List, as well as, the link to a list of Family and Regional Newsletters, also in pdf format.
The Internet Subscription Services section is fee-based and very expensive. The database, however, freely available to researchers working onsite at the LOC and available at what is described as, other institutions (perhaps your local library or universities). The library does supply an excellent online list of selected free genealogy web sites. There are 24 sites listed and, although there are some familiar names listed, there are several that could be new and interesting resources.
The American Memory section is a must online visit. It has its own unique web site format and a very user-friendly interface. You’ll find it a vast resource of digitized materials, including first person accounts of several chapters in American History.
The American Treasures Gallery was closed in August 2007, but the exhibits will remain permanently online. If you click on the link of the Top Treasures Gallery you can view hand written documents written by the Founding Fathers.
Here’s the list of dates for the orientation classes for the rest of 2010 and for 2011:
December 8 and 22
January 12 and 26
February 9 and 23
March 9 and 23
April 6 and 27
May 11 and 25
June 8 and 22
July 6 and 20
August 10 and 24
September 7 and 21
October 5 and 19
November 2 and 16
December 7 and 21
When you visit the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room web page at the library you’ll see the location and contact information in the right column.
I’ve also included the following useful link to the FAQ section of the LOC web site where you will find very detailed and informational answers to the following 10 very relevant questions.
- Does the Library make the full text of books available on its Web site?
- Where can I find full-text books online?
- Can the Library tell me how much my book, artwork, or other item is worth?
- What do the different Library of Congress numbers mean?
- How do I read a Library of Congress call number?
- How do I find a book’s Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) number?
- How can I obtain copies of books and other materials from the Library? Does the Library allow users to borrow books?
- Why isn’t my book held by the Library of Congress?
- How do I cite materials on the Library of Congress Web site? What resources are available for learning how to cite other electronic and print materials?
- Where can I find other lists of frequently asked questions on the Library’s Web site?
As the title of this post suggests, the LOC is a goldmine for genealogical research.