Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Don't forget the Library of Congress
With all the emphasis on online resources, especially large genealogical databases like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, it is easy to forget that there are still overwhelmingly large libraries in the world. Why not start out with the largest of them all, the Library of Congress (LOC). I have spent nearly my whole life referring to and using the resources of the LOC. Part of the way I put myself and my family through undergraduate and graduate school was to work in the University of Utah Library as a bibliographer. We used the LOC Catalog every day for years. One of the huge advantages of the digital age is having those resources made available online. The LOC is now part of the World Digital Library, a collection intended to preserve the world's entire cultural heritage online.
One of the really fundamental questions is whether or not the collections are "helpful to genealogists?" This is really the wrong question to ask. Genealogy incorporates everything about individuals and families. If anything, genealogists are generally restrictively narrow in their investigations and fail to see the family in the overall historical and geographic context. If we, as genealogists, ignore the larger historical and cultural context of our research, we will continually be making decisions in a vacuum and failing to incorporate pertinent information into our family's history. Genealogists tend to study and research their families as if they were bugs in a display case rather than getting out into the jungle to understand the full context of their lives. How many so-called brick walls would fall if the researchers concentrated on the time and surroundings of the research objective and forgot trying to find specific information?
OK, back to the LOC. Numbers of digital images are meaningless unless you get into the collections and see and hear what they have to offer. But of course numbers do motivate. For example, currently, the LOC has 3,999,267 pages of digitized newspapers. Searching on my surname, Tanner, I found over 100,000 items. By adding the term "Arizona" I got 60 articles, some about my ancestral family members. I found an interesting story about an amazing example of tracking a horse rider through the desert to find a relative who had committed suicide. The article is entitled Crazed by Experiences in the War, Young Utah Man Suicide on Desert Northeast of Flagstaff. You never know what you will find.
If you want to be amused, amazed, educated and enthralled, then spend some time at the LOC website.