“…Not on Federal Records…”

The third preconference workshop at the Library of Congress, and the ALA 2022 Conference hadn’t even started yet – and the information received here was enlightening, so I sat wondering, “What would I dare to expect from the conference?!”

Below is the description of the workshop attended –

and I realized after taking in the first initial workshops – Chronicling America

and the LOC (Library of Congress) Folk Life Collection were just broader strokes of a close up look at what this third workshop offered – and allowed users to unearth previously known information.


As the description stated, it was a little known fact to many that took this detail for granted – When searching vital records, as well as the Local History and Genealogy Reference Services, records usually go back to 1870- but not before. Why? African Americans at the time were not on Federal records, during slavery,. and often slave owners had to be researched in order to locate family members that were African American. let that sink in, as it sunk in to my brain throughout this workshop.

The amazing details about this part of the Library of Congress’ section:

There are How To guides and research topics/guides available

There are over 100, 000 local histories to be found, but check an example of the detail that can be given based on say, Prince Georges County in Maryland looking at family records- AMAZING!

There are almost 700, that’s right, SEVEN HUNDRED subsections in the database!

The collections section has such a wide variety of sources/materials – it will surprise you when you start checking out this amazing resource.

A good reminder brought up was the Library of Congress does not have Federal records but does have city directories.

As mentioned in previous posts, the access to the “Chronicling America” database is absolutely free and has countless types of primary sources.

The Ask a Librarian service is also pretty invaluable to many individuals as librarians from the Library of Congress are available extensively. I also like the clause that they are willing to get you in the correct direction, but will not be doing the research for you, a common phrase that is often expressed from an educator to student.

The best advice was what Ahmed Johnson passed on knowing the scarce information it was to find genealogy informartion on African American family trees – ” Look on places not so obvious.” – Examples he provided in this workshop were utilizing research guides on the Local History and Genealogy Reference Services page,


digging into the regimental histories that enlisted individuals during the war, looking into the extensive collection of periodicals collection from the digital collections and the Chronicling America Project. Vital records and starting with yourself are also the advice Mr. Johnson passed on as well as a treasure of clues like investigate the oldest member in your family, as well as your attic, trunks, etc..

It is worth nothing how interwoven the aspects of research are and often not obvious when starting the process. The initial two workshops the Library of Congress laid the foundation of this principle of how all can truly be connected, and in a world where research often is deemed to be boring, mundance, and not good if achievied if results are not found in the first 20 minutes, one has to question, and instill the question, how good are the results, how accurate are the results found within 20 minutes?

From the Library of Congress, not at home, services like printing, acnestry.com, and services usually needing to be paid for, are free. Another MAJOR resource is the American Memory resource from the Library of Congress.

The largest takeaway so far has been unpacking the depth of the Library of Congress, not continuing to let it appear that the countless resources are just for serious researchers foundf in major academic institutions, and connecting the tools here to many other sites and using the Library of Congress as a tool to learn how to utilize similair research skills across the spectrum of the research process. Ahmed Johnson and Karen Walfall (who has countless informatiion on state resource guides as well) were knoweldgeable enough to let us see how this applies to African American ancestry research, and think now to how many other individuals, groups, and ethnicities these skills can be applied to, bringing students, parents, educators, and professionals all together ina similar way?

There are so many discoveries that need to be found representing so mant aspects of American History, both good and bad. Discovering in this case the challenges in research to African American families due to not being listed on federal records presents a challenge to discover how to utilize research to your advantage when odds are stacked against you. How many other situations, groups, races, ethnicities, contain this same challenge?

Instead of seeing history as always somthing to be ashamed of, the perspective should be taken of how to rise above the challenges utilzing research to learn aspects of who we are as a country, that many might not be aware of. Certainly, the Library of Congress strives to do that on a continual basis. Not a bad way to start the American Library Association Annual Conference, after a long period of Covid. Stay tuned for the first of many informatiive and resourceful days packed with tools you can reignite opprtunities to your patrons, in and out of libraries.

About Harry Brake

Employee of Woodbridge High School, Library Media Specialist, Media crazy! :)
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