When researching Kentucky history, books are great resources, but you should seriously think about broadening your horizons to include archival material. Many libraries include rare or primary source archival collections, but today we’re going to focus on the large collection housed at KHS. As an institution, we have been collecting since the early 19th century, and as our collection grew, so did the history WOW factor! As a research library, half of our collection space is devoted to providing access to these unique resources!
When I first started working for KHS a few years ago, we were thick into small collection processing. Our “small collections” consist of exactly that, small collections that usually only take up a folder or two; Not enough to fill a box. It just so happens that the set of folders I was handed to work on contained documents signed by some of our most famous historical figures! I was in awe. Within one day, I personally touched letters and documents signed by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Boone, Patrick Henry, James and Dolly Madison, among several others. Let’s just say THAT was an awesome box!
I was in historical heaven! Some of our George Washington items were from his younger years, when he was a surveyor, which included drawings by his own hand. Patrick Henry was a former Governor of Virginia, so his signature on early Kentucky documents is quite common, but I was thrilled to hold one nonetheless. His red seal is still attached to the paper! Thomas Jefferson was signing small bond agreements, and Daniel Boone was surveying up a storm. The kaleidoscope of history is breathtaking and yet easily accessible.
These are just some examples of the treasures found within our library. We have a large collection of original material spanning most of Kentucky’s history, and beyond. We even have documents from 16th Century Scotland that are a part of the Alexander Family Collection. So the next time you want your very own brush with celebrity, look up some of your favorite historical figures and ask to see the documents they held in their own hands so many years ago. Any material listed as part of our archival collections can be requested at the reference desk during your visit. Simply fill out a Call Slip, and within a few minutes, you can have your very own brush with celebrity!
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