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District of Columbia: Local History & Genealogy Resource Guide

Compiled by reference specialists at the Library of Congress, this guide identifies key print and online resources for pursuing family history, as well as state, county and municipal historical research, for the District of Columbia.


Although New York City and Philadelphia each served briefly as the capital of the United States, in 1790, Congress chose the District of Columbia as the permanent seat of government. George Washington helped select the site for the city. Situated on the Potomac River, Washington, D.C., was originally carved out of land transferred from Maryland and Virginia (Virginia's portion south of the river was returned to that state in 1846).

This guide offers a selection of resources and strategies for District of Columbia local history and genealogy research. These include the print and digital collections of the Library of Congress, as well as external repositories and web sites key to finding forebears in the District of Columbia.

Genealogical researchers take note:

Congress created the District of Columbia as the seat of the federal government on 16 July 1790. …. The area chosen…was carved from Fairfax County, Virginia (created in 1742) and from part of Prince George’s (created 1695) and Montgomery (created 1776) counties, Maryland. The area taken from Virginia was returned to that state in 1846. ….

Records for those living in the area created for the District of Columbia before 1801 have to be sought either in Maryland’s or Virginia’s records. When the portion of Virginia originally taken to create the District of Columbia was returned in 1846, the pre-1846 records were returned as well.

-- Alice Eichholz, ed., Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources, Third Edition (Provo: 2004), p.120.

1792 map of the District of Columbia
Andrew Ellicott, contributor. Plan of the City of Washington 1792. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

About Local History & Genealogy Reference Services

The Library of Congress has one of the world's premier collections of U.S. and foreign genealogical and local historical publications, numbering more than 50,000 compiled family histories and over 100,000 U.S. local histories. The Library's genealogy collection began as early as 1815 with the purchase of Thomas Jefferson's library.