For 26 weeks I will take you on a family history journey through the alphabet, one letter at a time. I have decided that each post will be educational in nature, focusing on topics related to resources, methodology, tools, etc. Although the challenge is complete, there are still some people who are finishing up and Alona, the host, is encouraging others to participate anyway. Additional information on the challenge, can be found at Take the ‘Family History Through the Alphabet’ Challenge.
University libraries are probably one of the most overlooked repositories when it comes to genealogy research. But the universities in the states in which your ancestors lived should definitely be on your list of places to look. These libraries usually contain special collections or archives related to the history of the state as well as the areas surrounding the campus. Even better, many universities are digitizing their archival collections and making them available to the public for free.
Visiting a university library’s website is probably the easiest route to discover what materials they have in their collection and if they have anything available online. For example, when you visit the Special Collections & Archives page of the University of Idaho Library’s website, you can see that they have four categories of special collections, including historical photographs and manuscripts. You can even access their digital collections from this page.
Some libraries also have finding aids written specifically for genealogists or historians, such as Guide to the Genealogical Manuscripts Collection MS 234 at Yale University Library. The collection is described as “an artificial collection of manuscript and printed genealogical material and genealogies on Connecticut area families, ca. 1600-1980.” The Yale University Library has also put together research guides on a variety of topics such as Witchcraft and Society in Colonial America.
Probably one of the best digital collections put online by university libraries is Iowa Digital Library, which is a project of the University of Iowa Libraries. There are so many wonderful things to explore, including maps and atlases, diaries, and photographs. They even have a great Women’s History section with all sort of neat collections.
I strongly encourage you to add university libraries to your list of places to explore. When you visit their website, be on the lookout for things like Special Collections, Archives, Manuscript Collections, etc. and check to see if they have finding aids or guides for their collections. And of course, don’t forget to explore their digital collection if they have one.