Using Academic Libraries for Your Genealogy

Libraries are essential for genealogy research. Although we usually think of public libraries, academic libraries — those in colleges and universities — can also be useful (and with more than just yearbooks). Drew Smith shares some tips for using academic libraries in your genealogy.

Generations Cafe Podcast, Episode 34

You can listen to this episode by clicking the play button below. (You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and most other podcast apps.)Length: 17 minutes.

About Drew Smith

Drew is a genealogist and the co-host of the Genealogy Guys podcast. He’s also a librarian at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Can Genealogists Use Academic Libraries?

Generally speaking, yes, although private colleges and universities aren’t as open to the public as state schools are. There are usually restrictions on hours, so be sure to check the library’s website before you visit.

Why Genealogists Should Use Academic Libraries

Academic libraries, especially larger ones, often have what are called special collections. These can be materials related to any topic, but you’ll find that they can be useful in your genealogy research.

The University of South Florida has a series of collections about Ybor City and West Tampa. They also have several local and family history collections, including the records of some Tampa funeral homes. (Surprisingly, they also have the original marriage records for Hillsborough County!)

Smaller colleges with more of a teaching focus than a research focus might not have extensive special collections, but they usually have yearbooks, student newspapers, and sometimes local newspapers.

Before You Visit an Academic Library

Be sure to check out the library’s website for hours that they are open to the public, as well as any restrictions on what can be brought into the library. You’ll also want to explore finding aids for the collections you’re interested in. These finding aids will help you narrow down where in the collection you want to look.

Also be sure to look for any “request forms,” as some materials might have to be pulled from remote storage. Requesting the materials ahead of time (or at least filling out the forms before you go) can save you valuable research time.



Posted: September 27, 2019.

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  • Very interesting episode, Amy. I enjoyed hearing about all the different kinds of collections that academic libraries might contain. It just proves we need to widen our search parameters when looking for records.

  • If your ancestors belonged to a church that was part of one of the less-well-known denominations, you may find that after the church is no longer in existence as a functioning body the records may have gone to a small denominational college. For many this can be a real boon. These colleges are often not well known, so you might have to do a little searching. Do not forget about this potential source for things that may be hard to find, otherwise. The records may be in the form of minutes or notes, not the kind of records kept by some other traditional denominations, but you may be able to read through them and find out things you could have found no other way.