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Presidential Family Correspondence: Manuscript Collections and Resources at the Library of Congress

This guide describes selected manuscript resources at the Library of Congress for researching presidential family correspondence between U.S. presidents, their spouses, children, and other family members.


Harry A. Garfield, author. Letter from Harry "Hal" A. Garfield to his parents. December 19, 1880. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

Historians, teachers, and researchers interested in learning more about the personal lives of American presidents will find a wealth of resources in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress that relate to the relationship between presidents and their families. This guide includes suggested collections and search tips, access to selected Library of Congress digital collections, and links to external resources pertaining to presidential family correspondence. For specific questions or assistance in using the Library’s resources, use the Ask a Librarian service to contact a reference librarian.

Of the Manuscript Division’s more than twelve thousand collections, twenty-three collections are presidential papers, beginning with George Washington and extending to Calvin Coolidge. The papers of the presidents following Coolidge are held at individual Presidential Libraries, overseen by the National Archives and Records Administration, Office of Presidential Libraries. In 2020, the Library of Congress completed a more than two decade-long initiative to digitize these papers, adding over 3.3 million images to the Library's ;online archives. This guide highlights family correspondence found in the presidential papers. While the National Archives and Records Administration holds the official records of the United States government, the presidential collections held by the Library of Congress consist of personal papers, which include items such as letters, diaries, notes and other documents that give insights into the presidents' family relationships and what their family life looked like. These items provide valuable knowledge to our understanding of American presidents by giving a more personal look into their lives.

One example is shown to the right. The item displayed is a letter sent by Harry "Hal" Garfield to his parents, President James Garfield and Lucretia Garfield. At the time, Hal was seventeen years old and was studying with his younger brother James at St. Paul's boarding school in Concord, New Hampshire. After a long semester of hard work and studies, Hal illustrates his letter with a small cartoon of himself packing to return home.

Attention: All researchers are advised to contact the Manuscript Reading Room prior to visiting. Many collections are stored off-site, or may have access restrictions, and advance notice is needed to retrieve these items for research use. Researchers interested in consulting any of the division's collections are strongly encouraged to write the Manuscript Reading Room via the Ask a Librarian form or email at [email protected] to inquire about the status of collections of interest.