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Genealogy and Family History Research: A Guide to Online Resources

Digital Primary Sources

The digital collections of the Library of Congress contain a wide variety of primary source materials useful to genealogical and family history research including manuscripts, images (photographs, architectural drawings, images of homes and buildings), maps, historic newspapers, and more.

The Library of Congress manuscript collections are rich in materials useful to doing family history research. In addition to digitized primary sources, you will also find a large number of finding aids providing detailed descriptions of these widely diverse collections.

Finding Aids

From the Manuscript Reading Room homepage, you can select "search across all finding aids" and enter your ancestor's name. The results will list collections in which someone with that name appears as a subject. Keep in mind that not all manuscript collections are available in digital form online.

Digitized Collection Materials

The following digitized manuscript collection materials can be helpful in locating information about your ancestor.

American Colony in Jerusalem, 1870 to 2006

Civil War Diaries

Federal Writers Project (WPA) Interviews with Formerly Enslaved Americans

Gladstone Collection on African Americans' Military Service

Special Essay on Suffragists

Did any of your relatives live in a historic home?

You can learn more about the property and its stories from these collections, which contain thousands of images, drawings, and documents of homes and buildings.

Digitized Collection Materials

Gottscho-Schleisner Collection

Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey

Horydczak Collection

Library of Congress map collections can help you locate your ancestors in a particular time and place. For instance, some show landownership, others offer detailed information about the buildings on a block in a city or town.

Digital Collection Materials

Cities and Towns

Civil War Maps

Military Battles and Campaigns

Rochambeau Map Collection

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

You may search the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog for photos of individuals or groups. 

As a general rule, we have found that, when hoping to find an image of an ancestor who did not have a famous name, it may help to search using terms for something larger with which your ancestor was connected: did he arrive on a ship or serve on a ship? Fight in a battle, or on a battlefield?  Help build or work for a railroad? Own or work for a business, or participate in a strike?

Even if the search results do not include an image of your ancestor (and if they do, your ancestor is most likely not identified by name), it will give you a visual sense of that larger world of which your ancestor was a part.

Digital Collection Materials

Van Vechten Collection

Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives

Detroit Publishing Company


Historic newspapers can be extremely useful in genealogical research. Through a partnership with the National Endowment of the Humanities, this vast collection of historic newspapers fully searchable through the Library's website. Additional newspaper collections are available online.

Digital Collection Materials

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

Japanese-American Internment Camp Newspapers

The Veterans History Project (VHP) collects and preserves the remembrances of American war veterans and civilian workers who supported them. Some of these are transcribed interviews; some audio only; some audio and video. Not all materials listed have been digitized.