Back in the “olden days,” when I began my genealogy research (1979), the Library of Congress was a far away place – 3,000 miles from California, to be exact – and the internet age hadn’t yet been born. Digitization in the 1980s meant records were on microfilm!
Sure, the Library of Congress held all kinds of genealogical and historical treasures – we all knew that – but an in-person visit wasn’t going to happen often, if at all.
Fast forward to the 21st century and the Library of Congress website is digitally growing to provide in-home access to more and more of its collection of goodies.
If you haven’t ever visited the Library of Congress website, you are bypassing a rich catalogue of American resources. Its collection is so vast that not all of it is available online – and it may never digitize the entire collection.
However, every researcher needs to take the time to browse through what is currently available.
NOTE: If you have accessed Library of Congress American Memory, but it’s been 1+ years since your last visit, the American Memory collection has been migrated and integrated into this home page.
On the home page, begin by clicking Digital Collections at the bottom of the page.
A new page will open showing Featured Content plus a long list of Topics on the left side.
Was your family living in San Francisco in 1906 when the earthquake happened? If so, you’ll want to check out Local History and Folklife, which includes film clips taken on that April morning.
Maybe you are interested in the historical events leading up to the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote. Women’s History contains the pamphlets, books and scrapbooks in the National American Woman Suffrage Association collection.
Or perhaps your interest is in Science and Technology because a relative worked in one of those fields. That collection includes papers of Alexander Graham Bell, Jedediah Hotchkiss (a Confederate Army topographical engineer), and the Historic American Buildings Survey. These examples represent just a fraction of what can be found here.
As the Legal Genealogist Judy G. Russell tells us, knowing the laws that were in effect in a certain time period is key to understanding why and how legal decisions were made.
Government, Law and Politics will expand your knowledge. For those interested in the birth of our nation, this collection includes A Century of Lawmaking for A New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates.
The Confederate States of America Records can also be found in this category.
Did someone in your family file for a copyright? You’ll want to view the Early Copyright Records Collection, 1790-1870.
Geography & Places includes the Panoramic Maps collection, containing 1,726 panoramic maps of the U.S. and Canada.
Other collections to be found on this website include Florida Folklife, created during the Depression Years Works Progress Administration, Life on the Ohio and Erie Canal, and Prairie Settlement: Nebraska Photographs and Family Letters, 1862-1912.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that a newspaper search would bring up possibly the Library of Congress’ most well known collection – Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapers.
Lastly, if you are ready to do more than browse and want to search a specific topic or person, the collections to have a search box at the top of the page:
Where the purple arrow is pointing is a category box, which has a long subject list:
This will allow you to narrow down your search considerably.
This post would become a book if I tried to name all the records in each of the 66 categories. However, I hope I’ve shared enough examples that prove it worth your time to do some serious browsing and/or searching at the Library of Congress online.