Washington D.C. has a treasure trove of genealogy and related records. Advanced planning will find you digging for gold in the right spot.
“There are world-class research facilities in the D.C. area” said Pamela Boyer Sayre, CG, CGL, during her National Genealogy Society Conference talk “Where Would You Go if You Had Five Days in Washington, D.C.?” given Thursday afternoon in Richmond, Virginia. Her recommendations follow.
Where Do You Go?
Sayre recommended five top research facilities:
4) the Smithsonian Libraries, and
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
What’s at NARA?
NARA houses federal records. “Almost every one of us and our ancestors have come in contact with the federal government at some point in our lives and a record is created,” noted Sayre. Tax returns, security clearances, military service records, public land purchases, and pension files are just a few available records named in her presentation. These records can include textual files, photographs, and maps.
What’s Online from NARA?
Go to http://www.archives.gov to view NARA’s Online Public Access (OPA) catalog, the Access to Archival Databases (AAD), the microfilm catalog, and the online version of “The Guide to Federal Records in the Archives of the United States” to determine if what you’re looking for is available.
Plan Your NARA Visit
Read the “Plan Your Research Visit” online pages provided on NARA’s website.
Visit on weekdays during business hours only. Sayre recommended going as early as possible.
The National Archives has facilities nation-wide, from Anchorage, Alaska to New Hampshire, from presidential libraries to storage facilities. Do advanced research- perhaps something you need can be found closer to home.
There are two NARA facilities in the Washington, D.C. region: Archives I in downtown D.C. or Archives II in suburban College Park, Maryland. Find online which houses the records you need.
The Library of Congress (LOC)
What’s at LOC?
The LOC is the nation’s library. “They have a library like no other,” Sayre enthused. The library preceded the National Archives and Records Administration and so includes many early archival collections and on-site databases. It is the copyright holder of books and retains copies in their collections. They also have a large acquisition budget, thus continually adding to the collections. Sayre noted, “They are strong in family histories, newspapers, maps.”
What’s Online from LOC?
Go to http://www.loc.gov. At the bottom of the homepage under the section title “Especially for…”, you’ll find a link for “Researchers” that takes you to Research and Reference Services pages. From there you can select information on their Research Centers (including Newspaper & Current Periodicals, Local History & Genealogy, Law Library, and others.), International Collections (including African & Middle Eastern, Asian, European, and Hispanic) and Special Format Collections (including Geography & Map, Prints and Photographs, and others).
Plan Your LOC Visit
“Make sure you do good searches of the catalogs…and be ready to look at some of them in person when you arrive,” said Sayre.
The LOC is housed in 3 separate buildings: the Jefferson, Adams, and Madison buildings. Understand what is in each and where they’re located before you arrive by researching on the LOC website.
You’ll need to get a “Reader Identification Card” to use the facilities. It is available from Research and Reference Services on-site. Be certain to bring an I.D. card.
Daughters of the American Revolution Library (DAR Library)
What’s at the DAR Library?
This is a private library open to anyone for a $6/day fee. “They have wonderful collections of family histories and unique collections you won’t find anywhere else,” said Sayre. Application files which include lineage traced to the Revolutionary War ancestor are available, for example.
What’s Online from the DAR Library?
“If you have Rev War ancestors, use the DAR Genealogical Record System online at home before you come and search the on-site catalog of the DAR Library, “recommended Sayre. “Once you are in Washington you can access the supporting documentation for a fee. Roll up your sleeves and dig in yourself.”
Sayre also recommended searching the Online Library Catalog for a geographic location even if you don’t have ancestors in the Revolutionary War. Marriage records, census information, maps, and other information are available for certain locations.
Plan Your DAR Library Visit
Remember to bring money for the daily access fee and any other fees, such as copying, that may arise.
Visit the DAR Library website at http://www.dar.org/library/ in advance and get up-to-date rules for library usage.
The Smithsonian Libraries
What’s at the Smithsonian Libraries?
“The best kept secret in Washington is the many libraries that are affiliated with the Smithsonian,” observed Sayre. Examples include the History and Culture Library and the new National Museum of the African American.
What’s Online from the Smithsonian Libraries?
Google Search the word “Smithsonian” followed by the name of a person in quotes to find available resources. For example, in the Google Search field type “Smithsonian “John A. Halderman”” and lists of possible Smithsonian collections are shown.
Plan Your Smithsonian Libraries Visit
The libraries are open to the public by appointment only, so get in contact before you make your visit. See “Visiting Libraries” from the website’s “About” section.
Society of the Cincinnati Library
What’s at the Society of the Cincinnati Library?
Information on descendants of the officers of the Continental Army and their French counterparts, along with military and naval history of the 18th century, is available at this unique library.
Plan Your Society of the Cincinnati Library Visit
The library is located on “Embassy Row” in D.C. It is open to the public for limited hours. Sayre recommended getting an advance appointment to visit.
See the “Visit” page on their website for more details.
Insider Tips on Visiting Washington D.C.
“If your purpose is to research, come in the off season. Avoid the crowds and get a price break on airfare and hotel rooms,” remarked Sayre.
Consider staying in hotels just outside the District, in the suburbs of Maryland or Virginia to get a price break. Stay at a suburban hotel near Metro (subway) stops and use a SmarTrip Card you can purchase as you enter the Metro.
On your smart-phone, download the “DC Metro Map” application (app) and reference it to travel the various stops. Note in advance which research facilities are at which stops.
Have your own tips for a genealogy research trip in Washington, D.C.? Leave a comment below!