Overlooked GeneaGem #2 – Historical Societies

Yesterday, I provided some links to state archives around the U.S. and included a link to the Library and Archives of Canada. Today’s overlooked resource is the many historical societies around the country.

Here are links to several directories:

U.S. Historical Societies

Directory of Historical Societies

Historical and Genealogical Societies of the U.S.

List of Historical Societies

When I first started researching my family, back in the days when that meant lots of library and site visits, I often didn’t bother with historical society publications. If I did happen to browse through a journal, it usually contained stories about the winter of 1855, building a bridge over the river or other such stories. There was little genealogical material to be found.

However, I have found that while society publications are often very bland in terms of genealogical information (I know there are exceptions, but I have not found any of my families in them), the society often maintains files on families who settled in the region. I was stumped for a long time on a maiden name for one of my husband’s ancestors. In looking at some unusual given names, it seemed likely that there was some kind of tie to the Lewis family. I found nothing about them and there was no genealogical society in that area. There was a small historical society so I phoned them. The volunteer who answered said she would be happy to send information on the family, but it would take a couple of days to copy all the material in the family file folder they had accumulated. Not only did I prove the maiden name, but I also gained a couple of genealogical contacts and we shared information. The only fee was the copy costs, but I included a donation to the society, too.

Obviously, not all sources are free, but these small local societies may have items not found elsewhere – like family papers, copies of Bible records, old news clippings and drawings of cemetery layouts with epitaphs from gravestones lost to time. If there is a historical society, but no genealogical society in the area, it may be even more likely that the historical society maintains family information, too.

Check out historical societies where your families lived using the links above. If you don’t find anything for your town or county, try an internet search as none of the directories above are complete listings. Happy hunting!


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