Johnston, F. B., photographer. (1899) Students in the Reading Room of the Library of Congress with the Librarian of Congress, Herbert Putnam, watching. Washington D.C, 1899. [?] [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Before you come to the 2019 FGS Family History Conference August 21-24, make sure you have a solid research plan in place to take advantage of all the collections that will literally be at your fingertips. When you are not attending conference workshops and networking with other society members, you can visit your favorite research facility and jump right into the fun!

Genealogists know that the incredible possibilities available in Washington D.C. for records makes it kind of like our own little Disney World. So many fun things to see and learn! Where should you go first?

To help you plan out your research time, over the next few blog posts, we’ll be highlighting some important collections you may or may not know about so you can add them to your list.

Library of Congress:

Rare Book and Special Collections Division Reading Room

The Rare Book and Special Collections Division was born out of Thomas Jefferson’s wish to create a library for our new nation. So, he sold Congress his own collection. That collection became the core material for the new Library of Congress established in 1815. It soon became necessary to form a special collections area for all the rare books being acquired. One special item came from a 1930 purchase of fifteenth-century books owned by Otto H. Vollbehr. Vollbehr’s collection had one of three known perfect copies of the Gutenberg Bible printed on vellum.

Today the Rare Book and Special Collections Division Reading Room houses nearly 800,000 books, broadsides, pamphlets, theater playbills, title pages, prints, posters, photographs, and medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. There are over 100 separate collections, including one on Confederate State publications.

Veterans History Project

The Veterans History Project  collects personal accounts of American war veterans through audio and video taped interviews, letters, military papers, scrapbooks, memoirs and more. The project archives and preserves these items and stories from World War I through the Iraqi War. This is a powerful collection that personalizes the realities of war in the veteran’s own voice or through their own personal and original materials.

One part of the project encourages veterans and their families to submit candid photos from the veteran’s  war experience so as to capture the honest and true reality of what day to day life was during wartime through their own personal lens. At last count, only 40% of the collection has been digitized. The United States Congress created The Veterans History Project in 2000.

Geography and Map Reading Room

If you are a map geek, The Geography and Map Division Reading Room is a place you will joyously lose yourself in.  Among other things, in here you will find maps showing various World War I battles, including captured German military maps. You’ll also find topographic maps created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1894-1945 of the U.S., Puerto Rico and the Panama Canal. They even have maps tracing the exploration of Lewis and Clark in the Pacific Northwest. And while you are there, jump online to see the incredible collection of Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.  Insurance companies used them to assess how likely a structure might catch fire. They are a gold mine with street names and addresses. To date, over 25,000 sheets have been digitized from 28 U.S. States, Canada and Mexico. There are even maps for some U.S. whisky warehouses.


Those are just a few of the record collections you can find at the Library of Congress. For a full listing visit them at and get your list going!


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