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  • Writer's pictureDebora Ellen Blodgett

Dear Mr. President : Presidential Papers at the Library of Congress

Updated: Dec 11, 2023


Thomas Jefferson

When embarking on your genealogical journey, the first online repositories that come to mind are Ancestry and FamilySearch. Both organizations have a vast amount of digitized records that are available online.


Wait - what about the largest library in the world? That's right. How about the Library of Congress?


On December 17, 2020, the Library of Congress announced the completion of a project that spanned over 20 years - the digitization of the personal papers of 23 early presidents. [1]


Library of Congress Listing of Presidential Papers

The 23 presidents and the date range of the papers in each collection are noted in the image. What can you expect to find? Lots of nifty documents! Papers include correspondence, financial papers, military documents, account books, ledgers, maps, legal papers, manuscripts, personal diaries, and more.


Why are these collections of interest to genealogists? Did you consider that your ancestor may have written or received a letter from an early president? Luckily, the collection is key-word searchable. That's right - how cool is that?


Here is an example. Click on the collection you wish to search. Then in the search box on the upper right of the web page, search within the chosen collection. Choosing the Thomas Jefferson collection and entering Bradford yielded 10 results. Below is an excerpt from a letter from Thomas Jefferson, then vice-president, to William Bradford, then deputy governor of Rhode Island, dated November 6, 1797.[2]


Excerpt of Letter from Thomas Jefferson

Not only is the image of the document available for download, often a transcription is available as well.


Of course, you do not have limit your search for ancestors to just the presidential papers. You can widen the search to include all the digital holdings of the Library of Congress. Entering the search criteria of "William Bradford" Rhode Island in everything yielded 551 results.


The next time you are searching for your ancestors online - don't forget to include the Library of Congress in your research plan.



Sources


[1] "Library of Congress Completes Digitization of 23 Early Presidential Collections," Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/item/prn-20-085 : accessed 26 January 2021).


[2] Thomas Jefferson to William Bradford, letter, 6 November 1797, Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov : accessed 26 January 2021); Library of Congress > Digital Collections > Thomas Jefferson Papers > 1606 to 1827 > Search.



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Copyright 2021, Debora Ellen Blodgett





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