Editor’s note: This article marks the beginning of a new How-to series for KAO – Repository Roundup. Kentucky has a great reputation for being ‘Records Rich’ – but we want to know WHERE the records are located throughout the state. We hope to feature libraries and collections throughout Kentucky that will help you in your research. While KAO staff will be traveling to visit some of Kentucky’s rich resource repositories, we can’t get to everyone – which means, we need your help! If you know of a great library or collection in Kentucky available to researchers, take some pics and write a Roundup piece – especially librarians and historical/genealogical society members. If you’ve got it, let’s flaunt it Kentucky!
By: Cheri Daniels, KAO Editor & KHS Head of Reference Services
This spring, KHS staff had the fun task of travelling to Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green for a stop on the Repository Roundup tour. Despite having a few alumni of WKU on staff here, I confess to this being my first visit to Hilltop country. In fact, the nickname confused me. I didn’t realize Western Kentucky was known for a hilly terrain, and as we drove around, I still wasn’t seeing too many hills…until we made it onto campus and drove up to the top of a rather large hill that gave us a wonderful view! So, after you have located that hill, where are the records?
For the genealogist/family historian, you want to locate the Special Collections Library, which resides in a separate building at 1444 Kentucky St. One of the first great things I noticed about this structure is its ease of access for visiting researchers. It has a Visitors’ parking lot right in front of the building. When traveling down Kentucky St., look for this driveway, just in front of a beautiful log cabin.
You will notice the sign that warns visitors of permit only access with tow zone…but you see that friendly green ‘V’? That ‘V’ tells you visitors are welcome here. So pull on up to the front lot and park – it’s free!
Once you are inside the front door, check in with the friendly staff to let them know you are here to research, and then head up the stairs to the right of this desk.
Welcome to the Reading Room! Remember, this is a Research Library, so lockers are provided just inside the door to store purses and bags. From that point, you are free to dig in! It might be a good idea to check in with the Reference staff just opposite the lockers to give them an idea of what you are looking for, but you are also free to explore the books and files at your leisure. Again, some things are not in plain view and will need to be pulled for you if the item is rare. Just an FYI: They do have a digital microfilm machine, so bring your flashdrive to save images!
Now, let’s get down to repository brass tacks:
What do they have, and how do I find it?
As with any visit, ALWAYS do your homework. Visit their website ahead of time to read-up on their policies and research features. PLUS, don’t forget to use their catalog! These are free and available online for many libraries, and they want you to use them before you arrive. Trust me, this will help you maximize your research visit!
The KenCat Catalog is designed specifically for finding the historical/genealogical materials you need. However, as with many research libraries, not everything is in the catalog, but it is always worth your time to start here to begin your list of what you would like to see. Sometimes you might only locate a Finding Aid, but this helps you burrow down into the name level of a collection. (Side Point: A Finding Aid is a paper or electronic guide that helps you learn more about a large archival collection – Instead of being faced with 20 boxes of a ‘genealogical collection’, the Finding Aid will give you subject terms and sometimes name level container lists to help you narrow down your research focus. These can usually be downloaded for free at home to help give you a jump start.)
WKU is known in this part of the state as a major genealogical repository, and some of their collecting over the years has included Church Records, Family Records, Photographs, Diaries, Letters, etc. Some of these items have been digitized, and the current program holds 20,000 images available through the KenCat Catalog.
Some of the other items you should utilize while visiting:
Obscure local and historical journals
Genealogical Collections: 1857-1930
Barren County, Glasgow Newspaper
Potter Family Collection
Mildred Eubank Collection
Lloyd Ramer Collection
Equity Court Records – download the Finding Aid with name index online here
Death Certificates: 1877-1911 (YES, I said pre-1911 Death Certificates – a LOCAL initiative not seen within the rest of the state.)
Folk Study Interviews
Some items are not included in the online catalog, but you should be aware of them:
Binders full of photos – seriously – a treasure trove!
Park City News Obituary Index
Original copies of Newspapers: New Acquisition
Confederate Soldiers with a Kentucky Connection on File with the Orphan Brigade Kinfolk
And one other thing – don’t forget about TopScholar, their database for items produced by WKU faculty, staff, & students. There are several indexes and instructional sheets available there, as well as a browsable Manuscripts Finding Aid list – quite handy!
That’s it for now folks….next stop, Hopkinsville, in Christian County! Until then, Abe says: “Get on the road to great research!”
About the Author: Cheri Daniels is the Head of Reference Services for the Martin F. Schmidt Research Library and Editor of Kentucky Ancestors Online at the Kentucky Historical Society. She holds a B.A. in History and an M.S. in Library Science, both from the University of Kentucky. For over 25 years she has worked in various types of libraries, including 11 years at the University of Kentucky, and pursued her genealogical passion through her own research along the way. Other roles include: KLA Genealogy/Local History Round Table Chair, DAR Member, PR Director for the Harrison County Heritage Council, blogger at Journeys Past, Co-founder/President of Pastology, LLC, and speaker on the regional/national stage (NGS Conference: 2012/2014, NPR/WEKU: 2013, RootsTech Conference: 2014, Mysteries at the Museum/Travel Channel: 2014, WTVQ Kentucky History Treasures: 2014, 2016)
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