Library of Congress’s American Memory Website – A Goldmine for Researchers

By Carolyn L. Barkley

I recently wrote about the “Making of America” web site and its value to researchers. As a second installment in an occasional series of postings about web sites you won’t want to miss, this week’s posting focuses on the Library of Congress’s “American Memory.” I must confess that this article has taken me longer to write than many others as I found it almost impossible to stop browsing. Even my most organized and specific search led me down interesting diversionary paths that ended far from my original goal. Prepare to have some uninterrupted time to browse this in-depth site; it will be worth it.

American Memory” is described as “a multimedia web site of digitized historical documents, photographs, sound recordings, moving pictures, books, pamphlets, maps and other resources from the Library of Congress’s vast holdings.” Currently over 100 collections and 9 million individual items are on line, accessible to casual browsers, as well as professional researchers, teachers, and students. I recommend that you read the FAQs in order to learn about citing your sources; copyright issues; how to search, view, or listen to an item; how to save images and maps (different processes); how to download and save audio and video files; and how to order reproductions. The FAQs are extensive and will save you valuable time. If you are a teacher, you will want to check out the “Learning Page” designed for teachers, school librarians, students, and lifelong learners. Specific sites for kids can be found at “America’s Story from America’s Library,” featuring age-specific stories and games.

One of the strengths of “American Memory” is that you can search across all collections with a single search. You may also browse in various categories, including topics (maps, African American History, Culture, and Folklife, etc.); time periods; and places (all of the U.S., individual regions of the U.S., or international). You may also filter collections to search only those containing maps, manuscripts, motion pictures, sheet music, photos, sound recordings, etc.

I searched across all collections for the name “Barkley.” This surname search yielded 89 hits representing a wide variety of topics. I found a British recruiting ad for Admiral Arbhuthnot’s fleet from Andrew Barkley, Senior Captain aboard the Seal Blond in New York Harbor on 21 July 1780, as well as three baseball cards (1887-1890) for Sam Barkley, second baseman with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, the St. Louis Browns, and the Gypsy Queens (my personal favorite!). I also found HR 132, dated January 12, 1836 (24th Congress, 1st Session), in which the Committee on Private Land Claims refunded $177.50 to John Barkley of Ohio, the amount that he improperly had paid for fractional section no. 4 in township no. 6, range no. 8, on the waters of the Little Miami River between the military reservation and the Great Miami River. After paying for his land, Barkley apparently found that the property was not as large as the government had claimed – hence the refund! In addition, I found HR 332, dated April 4, 1840 (26th Congress, 1st Session), in which the Committee on Invalid Pensions granted a pension of $5.33 per month to  George Barkley, “late soldier in the thirty-sixth regiment of infantry.” An article from Stars & Stripes (Paris, France, March 28, 1919, vol. 2, no. 08) detailed the actions of Edward C. Barkley, PFC, Co. K, 4th Infantry, near Cunel, France on October 7, 1918. Barkley, on his own initiative, repaired a captured enemy machine gun and mounted it in a disabled French tank near his post. He climbed into the tank and opened fire on the enemy line as it drew abreast, breaking up the counter-attack. The final sentence of the article provides the name of his mother, Mrs. Liona Barkley, of Blairstown, Missouri. Drawings, photos and data are available for the Barkley House, an historic home in Pensacola, Florida. A photograph of Senator Alben Barkley of Kentucky shows him participating in the 1942 Victory Book Campaign in which books were provided to members of the armed forces. Finally, I found a citation for Charles Barkley who served in Co. C of the Black Brigade of Cincinnati. The source, Black Brigade of Cincinnati: Being a Report of Its Labors and a Muster-Roll of Its Member . . . provides historical data on a unit that was the “first organization of the colored people of the North actually employed for military purposes,” formed prior to creation of the 54th and 55th Massachusetts.

A place-name search for New Haven yielded an 1846 map of New Haven Harbor; an 1852 map of New Haven County showing landowners; an 1879 map of the of the City of New Haven; and drawings, photos, and written historical and descriptive data for Grove Street Cemetery, one of the more important historical burial grounds in New Haven.

You may also search specific collections directly. One of the richest sites for those with an interest in the Civil War is the Civil War map collection. This collection, a combined project of LC’s Geography and Map Division, the Virginia Historical Society, and the Library of Virginia, brings together a rich series of maps in one place for the first time. A search for the 10th Massachusetts yielded a map of a battle at Auburn, Virginia, on 14 October 1863, showing the regiment’s position; a search for South Mountain provided several maps of this Maryland battlefield; and a search for Nelson County, Virginia, resulted in two maps of the county in which I now live. Other map collections, covering a period from 1597 to 1988, provide panoramic views of selected cities and towns between 1847 and 1929, railroad maps between 1828-1900, and much more.

Other collections you may wish to explore include “American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I and the 1920 Election.” This collection of 59 speeches includes the voices of Calvin Coolidge, Samuel Gompers, John D. Rockefeller Jr., as well as candidates James Cox and Warren G. Harding. As our current election season draws to a close, it might be interesting to see if there are any similarities in the national issues of 2008 and 1920. Are you a “Dancing with the Stars” fan? If so, you may be interested in “An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals ca. 1490-1920.” Three more collections provide resources for musicians: “Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1851,” “Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music 1870-1885,” and “African American Sheet Music, 1850-1920.” The possibilities are limitless.

The “American Memory” is a must-use resource for genealogists. You may find documents specific to your ancestor. You will most definitely find documents to help paint the picture of the life and times of the individual you are researching: town pictures, maps, architectural drawings, and photographs of buildings, colleges, yachts, landmarks, businesses, county fairs, natural events, small-town life, war, famous people, and more. I invite you to set aside some time to browse through the wonderful collections of text, images and sounds. Visit the site often as new material is added regularly.

The Library of Congress’s collections are vast and varied. You may also want to refer to the following:


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