Underused Resources: Vertical Files

Often over-looked genealogical resources include “vertical files” or “clipping files” kept by many libraries and historical societies. These files usually contain items such as pamphlets, newspaper clippings, hand-written notes, photocopies of pages from family bibles or diaries, newsletters and the like. The contents of each file may range from a single sheet or two to several folders. There may be only a drawer or two in a file cabinet or a bank of file cabinets. Generally these items don’t appear in the catalog, but may be in a special list or you may need to speak to the reference staff. Each institution handles these items in a different manner.

At the Newberry, our vertical Family Research Files take up over 15 large file drawers. We have another 38 vertical file Family Collections that are each stored in their own archival box. Since the Newberry is a closed-stacks library, researchers are not able to browse through these materials, but need to request the folder/box they are interested in. Lists of the vertical Family Research Files and Family Collections are available online and in the library.

Here are examples of a few treasures included in the Family Research Files:

Fish Family

  • Photo of house built by Samuel Fish (pre-1700) in Groton, CT
  • A 1910 letter between cousins discussing their ancestors during the Revolutionary War
  • An application for DAR membership
  • Transcript of a will executed in 1913
  • Wedding invitation

Dorsey Family

  • Large hand drawn, annotated pedigree charts
  • Typed family history including the descendants of Robert Fuller (MA), Benjamin Clark (RI, CT) and Peter Wright (RI, VT)

Floyd Family

  • “Certificate of Qualification to Practice Medicine” for PCA Du Bois
  • Floyd - Dubois Family photo album

Latah, Washington File

  • Booklet from the dedication ceremony of the new Zion Church, Evangelical United Brethren, containing the history of the congregation

An example of a vertical file Family Collection would be:

Reid and Manierre Family
Papers, 1700’s-1900’s
Six Boxes
Abstract: Contains a thirteen folder study entitled “Ancestral Trails.” First few folders are more of a family scrapbook than genealogical research. The first twelve untitled folders were complied by Julie Manierre Mann and include notes, pedigree charts, family groups sheets, certificates, news clippings, photographs, letters, music production programs, postcards, and telegrams. The last folder is “The Memoirs of Honorable George Manierre.”

Please note that these Family Collections are only those collections that are relatively small and have not been included in the Newberry Modern Manuscript Collection. (More on this collection in another post.)

So take a break from the usual sources and look around for some hidden treasures - check with local libraries and historical societies. And don’t forget to consult the Newberry listings!

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