Genealogists are always looking for well documented sources to extend their knowledge and understanding of their ancestors. It is just as important to flesh out the names, dates and places to gain an understanding of how culture and history impacted and directed their lives.
University theses and dissertations are an excellent source for this type of information. Very, very occasionally, you might be able to find genealogical information in college papers. On the other hand, it is often quite easy to uncover topics related to the cultural background and historical events that impacted our ancestors’ lives.
A number of years ago I came across this master’s degree thesis:
Being a thesis rather than a dissertation, it had less depth, but nonetheless, gave me a new insight into the life conditions of the Slovaks that emigrated to the factory-laden area of Passaic, New Jersey to begin new lives. These were the lives of my great grandparents and, at least in their younger years, the lives of my grandparents.
I found this thesis enough years back that it was by hand in a library, not online. What can be found online? Many works have not been digitized, but more and more are being added to university and college online collections.
To locate them, try HathiTrust Digital Library. I searched for “Passaic dissertation” and got a couple of hits. One was about the growth of industrialization in the Passaic-Paterson area.
As you can see, this is in the University of Chicago collection from the Department of Geography. Because I was the third generation born in Passaic and my family lived and worked in Passaic through its early 1900’s growth, it was interesting reading to me. I can even vaguely remember the last of the factories in the neighborhood near my elementary school.
I then tried “Slovaks dissertation” and a dozen hits came up. None were about Passaic Slovaks, but several have great information about Slovak history.
I suspect that Hathi has a very incomplete collection of digitized theses and dissertations. I would recommend checking online university and college collections in the state where your family lived. Some colleges require a library account to access online material, but others do not.
University of Texas actually has a database called “Theses and Dissertations” that is searchable with images online.
USC actually only accepts electronic dissertations and has since 2006. They expect to have fully digitized all past submissions by 2016, but have a limited database online now.
Finding theses and dissertations related to your family tree might take some digging, but like my discovery of “Slovaks of Passaic,” there might be some treasure out there waiting to be found. It’s well worth taking a look.