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A (Family) Tree Grows in the Library

Want to know if you’re related to someone famous (or even infamous)? Do you come from a line of Wild West outlaws or perhaps British royalty? Is Hollywood literally in your blood? The Library of Congress can help you grow your family tree with one of the world's premier collections of U.S. and foreign genealogical and local historical publications.

Genealogical tree. Prints and Photographs Division Thomas Jefferson's Library. Library of Congress

The Local History and Genealogy Reading Room is the hub for such research. More than 50,000 genealogies and 100,000 local histories comprise its collections, which are especially strong in North American, British Isles and German sources. These international strengths are further supported and enriched by the Library's royalty, nobility and heraldry collection, making it one of a few libraries in America that offer such resources. In addition, the vertical files in the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room contain miscellaneous materials relating to specific family names; to the states, towns, and cities of the U.S.; and to genealogical research in general. The reading room also offers several very large CD-ROM titles produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Family History Library.

Reading room reference librarians also have compiled several bibliographies and guides to the Library’s genealogy collections.

The Library's genealogy collection began as early as 1815 with the purchase of Thomas Jefferson's library, which included such titles as the “Domesday Book,” Sir William Dugdale's “The Baronetage of England” and “Peerage of Ireland.” These were just three of the 6,487 books Congress purchased to replace those lost when the British burned the Capitol, where the Library of Congress was originally located, the year before. However, many of the Jefferson books were lost in the Library fire of 1851.

Recreated as part of the Library of Congress Experience is Jefferson’s library. The exhibition includes 2,000 of his original volumes supplemented by some 3,000 volumes—editions that match those lost in the 1851 fire—from other collections in the Library of Congress. Other missing works have been acquired through gifts and purchases.

Before being put on display, Jefferson’s originals were kept in the Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division, which headed up the effort to search for the missing tomes. There you can find a complete catalogue of the books in Jefferson’s library.

If you have a fascination for genealogical research, you join the ranks of such esteemed personages as William Shakespeare. The Bard was fascinated with family dynamics, often using them to fuel his plots with familial jealousy, lust, murder, mistaken identity and long-lost siblings. Many of his works share characters that can be linked together by a common family history dating to pagan times.

Guest speaker Vanessa James presented a lecture at the Library based on her own research into the bloodlines of Shakespeare’s characters. The program can be viewed as a webcast on the Library’s Web site.

A. Genealogical tree. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction Nos.: LC-DIG-pga-01537 (digital file from original print), LC-USZC4-1492 (color film copy transparency), LC-USZ62-11473 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: PGA - Heiss, Geo.--Genealogical... (D size) [P&P]

B. Thomas Jefferson’s Library. Library of Congress. Reproduction Information: Not available for reproduction.