Category Archives: DPLA Digital Public Library of Americ

Fun Finds on Digital Public Library of America (DPLA)

It’s been five years since I named the Digital Public Library of America as a true Genea-Gem and I still believe it is a tremendously under-used resource by genealogists.

Therefore, it’s time to take a new look at what this Genea-Gem has to offer us.

DPLA is now eight years old and it has added millions of digital images from all over the United States to its collections. Many of those images are copyright free!

While it is unlikely that you will find a photo of a family member in the collection, you will find lots of historical images that provide vivid pictures of what life was like there back in the day.

I am always on the lookout for historical information about towns where my ancestors once lived.

I know from Calais, Maine census and other records that I have family members who lived on Germain Street, Main Street, Washington Street, Barker Street and Calais Avenue.

Calais’s heyday was toward the end of the 19th century when the population was growing and the economy booming, due to lumber and fish.

Look at this fun map dated 1889 I recently found on DPLA.

St. Stephen, Canada & Calais, Maine 1889

DPLA images can be downloaded and saved and are of sufficient quality to drag corners to enlarge so small details can be seen.

Calais is the town on the upper side of the river and St. Stephen is below. I can find all of the streets where my ancestors lived. Using census and land records, I have specific addresses with house numbers.

When I used Google maps to locate the homes today, I was able to count buildings up and down the streets to determine which houses on the 1889 map were homes to my family.

Next, I found an alien registration for Walter Hewitt, recorded at the start of World War II. He isn’t my relative, but if he was, I’d have an exact date of birth and birthplace and would know how long he had lived in the U.S.

Next, I tried my second favorite town, Passaic, New Jersey and found a map showing the enumeration districts for the 1950 U.S. census of Passaic County.

Next, I looked at Brookfield, Missouri, as Michael Stufflebean settled there in the late 1830s.

Courtesy of the Missouri State Archives

The Stufflebeans also have deep ties to Norman, Oklahoma and the university. The picture below is the university library.

Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society

The types of images found at DPLA cover a wide range of topics. There are many historical maps, photos of old buildings and streets, records like the alien registration example I’ve included above, and even some military records.

If you’d like to have fun being drawn in by a BSO (bright shiny object), spend some time browsing today’s Digital Public Library of America. You might be surprised at what you find.



Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) and Digital Maine

Have you checked out the Digital Public Library of America?

DPLA isn’t a site where you are likely to find specific mention about your ancestor unless he or she was notable – a public official, etc. because most of the collections to be found here are historic in nature, not genealogical.

However, if your goal is to learn the social context of the times in which your family lived or perhaps to locate historic images of buildings or parks or town documents, DPLA is a resource to be checked.

Recently, they added Digital Maine. Given that I have some deep Maine roots, I was excited to visit that particular collection.

I located two gems, pages from the 1881 Atlas of Washington County, Maine, showing the villages of Charlotte and Meddybemps. Where my Stewart and Carlisle ancestors resided is marked on the maps:

My Family

C. Stewart was my 2X great grandfather, Charles, and H. Stewart was his son, Harry. I’m descended from Harry’s baby sister, Annie Maude.

One of the Maine censuses showed Charles to be living in Charlotte, but a later census placed him in Meddybemps. I wonder if the town lines were exactly known or if he really moved because his property is literally sitting on the town lines.

I loved this find!

Oklahoma, Maryland and Illinois also joined DPLA this year and each of those states represent ancestral homes on Dave’s side of the family tree. I think I have quite a bit of browsing to do!

Like Chronicling America, Digital Public Library of America is a constantly growing collection so it is essential to check back frequently to see what’s new.


New GeneaGem: DPLA & Family History Research

DPLA, or the Digital Public Library of America is (1) underused by genealogists (2) expanding its collections and (3) a fabulous resource for both family history data and placing historical context in your ancestors’ lives.

If you haven’t ever taken a look at the DPLA collections, you need to! DPLA launched about 3 years ago. If you would like an introduction, Amy Johnson Crow and Tamika Maddox Strong presented a webinar that is available on YouTube.

DPLA’s home page notes several different methods of searching the site – the search box under “A Wealth of Knowledge” is a quick way to look for an item of interest. Note, though, that because many of the collections are historical in nature, a surname search probably won’t be very productive. Place names or subjects, rather than people (unless it’s someone famous) can take you to your ancestors’ neighborhoods.

I entered “Passaic” in the search box, as my paternal side of the family settled there.

There were 1,963 results contributed by 116 different institutions, which could be historical societies, universities, museums, etc. I think this list will be keeping me busy for a while!

Another choice for searching is the Exhibitions tab.

31 different collections came up in a very colorful list! Topics cover everything from the 1918 influenza pandemic to the shoe industry in Massachusetts to patriotic labor during World War I, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Mapping the Civil War.

However, DPLA is now highlighting collections of interest to family history researchers.

DPLA is making it easy for you to search for your own family, as the collection is expanding to include yearbooks, family Bibles, oral histories AND family history/genealogy books, among other items.

There are even links at the bottom of the page to be placed on their email list or to contact them directly.

The DPLA has grown so much that, although I’ve talked about it a bit in the past, it now deserves its own GeneaGem status. 🙂