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.

      The History of the French In The Americas

      This is a vast, vast collection at the Newberry. Most of the items come from the Edward E. Ayer Collection. The collection includes:
      • Jesuit missionary correspondence
      • Accounts of travel and fur trade between the 16th and 20th centuries
      • Primary source materials documenting colonization and interaction with American natives
      • History of French Louisiana as well as the Caribbean
      • Science and anthropological studies
      • Genealogy
      • Maps

      Historical Linguistics

      Historical Linguistics at the Newberry are composed of two major collections: the Prince Louis Lucien Bonaparte Collection and the Edward E. Ayer Indian Linguistics Collection. The Newberry obtain the Bonaparte collection in 1901, which includes 18,000 different works (mostly dictionaries and grammar books for different languages). Strong representations of languages in this collection include:
      • Albanian
      • Basque
      • Frisian
      • Lithuanian
      • Celtic
      • Sardinian

      The Edward E. Ayer Collection includes native languages:

      • North American
      • Hawaiian
      • Philippine

      Latin American History

      Latin American historical materials can be found both in the Ayer and Greenlee collections of the Newberry Library. One can find information covering the discovery and colonization of different countries in the Americas and many different areas of Latin American history. The collection also dates back to Mayan and Mexican archaeology. One particular movement that is strongly documented in this collection is the spread of Catholicism in Middle and South America between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.


      The music collection at the Newberry began with the acquisition of the collection of Count Pio Resse of Florence. Strengths in this collection exist in the medieval, renaissance and baroque periods, and is composed of 60,000 books, 80,000 scores, and 100,000 pieces of sheet music. In addition, the music collection has several strengths:
      • Music theory
      • Music history
      • Manuscripts
      • Scores (opera)
      • Hymns, Psalms and liturgies
      • Early American music
      • History of Chicago music
      • Periodicals

      Portuguese and Brazilian History: The William B. Greenlee Collection

      William B. Greenlee was a trustee at the Newberry Library and a scholar of Portuguese and Brazilian history. He donated his collection, which today numbers over 10,000 volumes, to the Newberry in 1937. Some of the special items in the collection include periodicals and other collections of documents, biographies, travel pamphlets, and historical accounts of both local and national perspectives of Portugal and Brazil.

      Making An Appointment

      There are some steps involved in beginning one's genealogical or special collection research at the Newberry Library. First and foremost, one must obtain a reading card. A current photo identification and proof of address, as well as research topics are required. The librarians at the library can be contacted in different ways (at the library, phone, or through written correspondence) and help one in his or her research as well.

      The Newberry Library
      60 W. Walton St.Chicago, IL - 60610

      Reading Room Hours:
      Tuesday - Thursday: 10 am - 6 pm
      Friday - Saturday: 9 am -5 pm

      Reference Section:
      Fax: (312) 255-3513 - ATTN: Reference Section
      Email: reference@newberry.org


      Research for this blog was conducted using the official website of the Newberry Library, as seen above.

      The Newberry Library. 2007. The Newberry Library. 15 Jan 2007.