Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Welcome to the Newberry

The Newberry Library is a historical library in downtown Chicago, famous for its incomprehensibly extensive collection of original and rare materials in a variety of special topics. This is a picture of the first floor foyer one first enters after walking in. The Newberry is "open to the public," but to our dismay, we couldn't get past this point on our visit. The security guard had a chuckle and turned us away after reminding us that we couldn't take any more pictures...
Here is some general information about the library.
  • Walter Loomis Newberry willed in 1850s, when no public library in Chicago existed
  • Library chartered in 1887
  • 21,000 reference inquiries and 23,400 reader days last year
  • 5,800 registered readers
  • 1,500,000 printed titles
  • 5,000,000 manuscript pages
  • 300,000 maps
  • Largest collection of rare books in Chicago
  • All non-circulating
  • High security
  • Admission requires one to be 16 Years of age or junior in high school, to have a library card, and to have a feasible research purpose for using the library.

The Newberry Mission Statement

“The Newberry Library, open to the public without charge, is an independent research library and educational institution dedicated to the expansion and dissemination of knowledge in the humanities. As one of the world's leading repositories of a broad range of books and manuscripts relating to the civilizations of western Europe and the Americas, the Library's mission is to acquire and preserve research collections of such materials, and to provide for and promote their effective use by a diverse community of users. As a library, the Newberry is dedicated to the highest standards of collection preservation and bibliographic access; as a research and educational institution, it is committed to facilitating research, teaching, and publication in an atmosphere of full and free intellectual inquiry.”

A Little Bit On Genealogy

Genealogists study family trees and ancestry to establish an accurate family history for a particular family. Most people considered to be "genealogists" are people from the general public who are interested in their ancestors, family history and origins. After speaking with a reference librarian, I found that most genealogists who visit the Newberry are in fact regular people out to solve the mysteries of their ancestry.

Special Newberry Materials

Collection Guides
The Newberry has quite a few collection guides that organize and help guide genealogical research. They also display the extensive number of materials represented by different genealogical topics that the Newberry has in its collection. Some of these collection guides include the following:
  • Adoption guides
  • Census holdings
  • Chicago area neighborhood, church and synagogue records
  • Ethnic group/country guides
  • Fraternity guides
  • Geography/map guides
  • Military guides
  • Newspaper records
  • Noble ancestry guides
  • Transportation passenger guides
Genealogical Index of the Newberry Library
This index was created by genealogical librarians at the Newberry over the course of twenty years. It includes references to 3,000 different genealogical items published before 1917, and therefore contains quite a bit of valuable information involving the early genealogical collection. The index itself is rather difficult to use because it is so old and because most of the call numbers that it refers one to have been superseded. The library provides users with "how-to" handouts for the index because of this.

The Family Research Files
These research files are records that have been donated by genealogists or families. The files are incredible because they are composed of a mix of correspondences, newspapers and even personal journals among other documents. The files are organized by family surnames.

Genealogy Readings
Different materials have been published to help familiarize people with the Newberry's genealogy collection.

Internet Genealogy Links

Chicago Genealogy Databases
The Newberry subscribes to a number of helpful databases for genealogy research specific to Chicago. Some interesting ones include a record of Polish marriages through 1915 and the Chicago Police Department Homicide Record Index. All of these databases can be accessed through the Newberry's website, and more specifically through this link:

Vital Records Databases
These databases include birth, death, and marriage records for a number of states.

American History

American history is one of the most gargantuan collections at the Newberry. Several strengths exist in this collection, many of which can be linked to through the Newberry's official website. These include:

      • Exploration of the Americas
      • Colonial and revolutionary periods
      • Native American history
      • History of expansion in the west
      • The Civil War and following reconstruction along with military history
      • African American studies
      • Women, gender, ethnicity and immigration
      • American religion
      • Political history
      • History of railroad construction

      American and British Literature

      The collection of American Literature at the Newberry is outstanding. It covers a span between the colonial period and the 1920s, and includes many primary source documents which outline the history of our country and its pivotal moments. The collection also includes many periodicals and manuscripts. In terms of British Literature, the Newberry holds several editions of many famous and lesser-known writings. Some specialties include dramas from the Elizabethan era, and early translations of classics and poetry into English. The collection includes countless documents like these, as well as different interesting pieces such as sermons, travel pamphlets, and even historical accounts of libraries. Many of these can be found in the collection of American literature as well.