Genealogy Collection at the Newberry Library

Washington_Square_Park_&_Newberry_Library

Review of the Genealogy Collections at the Newberry Library (Chicago, Illinois).

The Newberry Library, in many ways, needs no introduction. It has been an independent research library for over a century and continues to attract scholars to its impressive collections. As a first-rate research institution, archival collections center on American History and Culture, American Indian and Indigenous Studies, Chicago and the Midwest, and History of the Book. I will focus on perhaps the most underappreciated collection in academic circles: the genealogy collection. For anyone that needs to delve into family or local histories, the Newberry is second to none as a place to do research. While the library has excellent holdings about the Chicago area, the collections extend well beyond the Midwest, covering most of North America over many centuries and include a wide array of local and family histories, genealogy reference materials, and local records.

The Newberry’s genealogical collection was particularly valuable for my dissertation research which studies seventeenth-century New England families, particularly those coming from England to North America during the so-called “Great Migration” of the 1630s. My research focuses on a couple of generations and the sources I found most useful were well within the library’s genealogy wheelhouse. The library caters to both expert and novice. On the first Saturday of every month, the library offers an introduction to genealogical research (admission is free and no reservation is required) addressing such topics as research methods and genealogy software. Be sure to check the Newberry’s online calendar for their full offerings of seminars and workshops (see http://www.newberry.org/programs-genealogists). The Newberry also has a genealogy blog with a listing of additional useful and popular genealogical topics, (see http://www.newberry.org/genealogy-blog).

Many scholars may believe that a genealogy library would have little value for them, or that all genealogy records are accessible through digital databases, such as ancestry.com or familyserach.org. While both these sites hold a wealth of information (and are available through computers at the Newberry Library), the genealogy collections and Newberry staff genealogists are invaluable in discovering original documents. Many sources, often privately published family histories, are only available through these genealogy collections with the assistance of staff who can point you to records groups that can shift research into new productive directions.

Having the ability to easily access Newberry’s collections of periodical journals in genealogy proves useful when checking citations and following leads. An additional benefit of being a registered reader at the Newberry Library is that one can request microfilm material from the FamilySearch Family History Library Film program (although researchers with limited time are advised to consult a librarian before their visit to expedite delivery).

The Newberry Library is located in Chicago in a particularly lovely neighborhood across from Washington Square Park. There is no shortage of places to eat, recreational possibilities, and cultural sites to visit after archival hours. Because of its location, one can reach the library easily via public transit, which includes both the subways and buses. Chicago’s public transit has very reasonable rates for weekly and monthly passes. There is also a new bike share program in Chicago (http://divvybikes.com/) for a small daily or monthly fee. The library is open Tuesday through Friday, 9am-5pm and Saturday, 9am-1pm.

To gain access to the collections, research visitors must apply for and receive a Reader’s Card issued at the Reference Center on the third floor. The application process requires a valid photo ID and proof of current home address.

The Newberry Library genealogy collection is on the second floor and adheres to typical reading room rules where no food or beverages, bags, outer jackets, scanners, etc. are permitted. A complete list of prohibited items can be found on their website (http://www.newberry.org/reading-room-policies). Lockers are available on the first floor and digital cameras are allowed subject to library guidelines. Researchers need to check in at the front security desk when entering, and then again at the front desk on the second floor as they enter the reading room. From there, you can request to have a desk space in the library’s pleasant reading room.

Julie Fisher
University of Delaware

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