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From May to July 1990, I was between jobs in Washington, D.C., and spent my time researching family history at the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the Mormon Church's family history center in Kensington, Maryland (on an amateur basis of my own or 'allied' families').  I was also getting paid what's called 'terminal leave' pay (leave I had saved up) from my service in the U.S. Army, knew I had a job that I would start on August 1 paying the same salary, and didn't have too many worries because of this.

I spent most of my time at the Library of Congress, everyday, sometimes all day.  After August 1, 1990, I continued with this research, although at a slower pace.  I pitched an idea to my father that someone could make a living running genealogy tours of Washington, D.C. This idea never materialized for me, but I did author an unpublished '30 Minute Guide to Family Research in Washington, D.C.'

The guide went nowhere.  I had forms and call slips and instructions and photographs and everything you'd need to make nice attachments.  My only issue was how to use a desktop publishing program to insert these helpful addendums to my guide.  This was the mid-90s before scanners were prevalent and the whole idea has sat on my shelf since then.

The guide covered many things:  how to research family history at the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the Mormon center in Kensington.  I read the guide this past week and called the Library of Congress to ask if any of it was still relevant.  "Yes, we still do it that way, mostly," came the reply.  I was surprised that the research techniques had not changed in 15-20 years at the LOC (Library of Congress).  But, then again, this Library founded by Thomas Jefferson must surely be tradition bound.

My biggest reason for writing a guide, and for putting it in this diary, is to save anyone going to the LOC research time.  If a person only has limited time to spend there, I think a few tips on saving research time at the LOC is at least moderately helpful.  So...here is my guide to researching family history at the LOC with an aim toward saving you precious time.

I have cut out much of the intro to the old guide.  It talked about where to stay in D.C.  The main thing to know is that the closest Metro stop to the LOC is Capitol South; use that stop and trek north to the LOC's Jefferson Building, the oldest of the three LOC buildings.

Before you begin, please read this about getting a reader card.

The first thing after entering and signing in is to head straight for a chair at one of the tables.  (If you have arrived on a weekend, the tables might be full.)  You'll be able to recognize if the space is open, because there will be no materials lying there.  Place your materials down (note pad, what have you).  Notice that each spot is marked with a letter/number combination (e.g., JG-16).  You will need to remember that number when you fill in your call slips for books, which, if you're industrious enough, will be no more than 10 or 15 minutes after you arrive.  The Reading Room has call slips placed everywhere.  They are brown in color with carbons attached.  These call slips  are important, in that only Library staffers may retrieve books from the shelves located in separate rooms you can't see.  There are books on shelves near the tables that you'll notice arranged by state, and those are available to browse and take to your table yourself.  But, first find out which books need to be called for with the brown slips because it takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to wait for your books to arrive.  Some books you will ask for have to be retrieved from one of the other two Library buildings.

There are two main (manual) card catalogs you can use to begin your search for books entered into the Library prior to 1980.  (An online card catalog is also available but may not cover all books.)  One is of published genealogies, arranged in alphabetical order.  The other is town and county histories arranged by state name. For instance, under the surname "Allen," you might find 15 or 20 cards, all representing some kind of published genealogy or other study of the Allen family (though not necessarily the branch you're looking for).  You will notice at the bottom of these cards is listed "Allied Families."  If you know of a relation or ancestor whose surname is located at the bottom of the card with your name, then that would be a good book to ask for.  Most often, though, these genealogies state the general locality that particular researcher concentrated on (i.e., the "Massachusetts Allens," or the "Virginia Allens").

Town and county histories are a rich genealogical source.  The Library of Congress has town and county histories for almost every location in the country, if not every one.  This card catalogue is self-explanatory.  For instance, if your ancestor lived in Geauga County, Ohio, or hailed from Lucas County, Ohio, you will find county histories on these counties.  The histories typically have indexes of family names, what they did in the county, and some history of the county for that time.  Many histories were written during the 19th century, and the books that the staff will bring to your table will often have published dates from that time period; they're very fragile in some cases and care must be taken if you are going to make copies.

Cards in the catalogue marked "LH&G" indicates that the book can be found in the Reading Room and taken down yourself.  This is helpful to know because, often, books take a while to retrieve and you can spend time with the "LH&G" books right away. Also, some cards are marked with the words "Microfilm."  These films have to be viewed upstairs in Room LJ-107, which has its own "call slip" system (they don't take the brown ones; you'll need to arrive there with the call number and title though).  It only takes ten minutes or so to retrieve a microfilm, so Room LJ-107 is also a good place to kill time while waiting on your other books.  Be sure to take a notebook to the Microfilm room.  You might find something interesting about your family there.  Once you've browsed the Reading Room, and ventured perhaps to the Microfilm Reading Room, it should be time to receive the books you asked for with your call slips.  The Library staffer will place the books you requested at your table location, JG-16, for instance.  Inside each book delivered will be a copy of your call slip.  These are handy to refer to later so you can record all the books you've already looked at. Sometimes, a book is not located on the shelf and the staffer will check the box "Not On Shelf." For example, if it's an old book, it may be "In Binding" for preservation reasons.  If there isn't a clear reason why the book is unavailable, you can request a central file search to locate the book by returning to the Book Service Desk and requesting a "CCF."

There are procedures, depending on the book, for reserving books and putting books on hold. Generally, you cannot check these books out, nor are they available for inter-library loan.

After locating material on your family, which can be pretty exciting, you'll want to make copies. Copiers are located in the Reading Room for a price.

Hours that the Genealogy Room is open are:

Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday - 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday - 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Sundays and Federal Holidays - CLOSED

Note:  These are the hours of operation for both the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room and the Microfilm Reading Room

Telephone:  (202) 707-6400 for hours; (202) 707-5000 General Info

Web site:  http://www.loc.gov/...

The main thing to close this with is what most of us know:  come armed with all your research so far!  I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has newer information.  Happy hunting.

Originally posted to Genealogy and Family History Community on Wed Mar 02, 2011 at 08:45 AM PST.

Also republished by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter.

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