Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Essential Sites: American Memory

It's sometimes easy to forget that we family historians are historians. As historians, we're required sometimes to look beyond the names and dates in our GEDCOMs and place the knowledge we've gained in context. That a great-great uncle drowned in the mill stream in 1897 is interesting enough, but the diligent researcher will look further. Was there a freshet that day? Was he suicidal? Context may be found in local newspapers, town and county histories, and—especially for events or trends of national significance—at American Memory.

A project of the Library of Congress, American Memory features collections of books, manuscripts, photographs, maps, films, sound recordings, and more. Need a map of the Battle of Chancellorsville? Or architectural drawings of a Nebraskan sod house? How about one of 2,300 narratives of ex-slaves?

The map collections at American Memory include digitized works from every age of American history, and every corner of the country. Most large cities and many large towns are represented, often by multiple maps drawn over a span of decades.

Photographs in the collections range from the earliest daguerreotypes to Ansel Adams' photographs of Japanese-American internees. Those looking for pictures to complement the text of a family history—whether yours is a family of fishermen, lumberjacks, or prairie farmers—would do well to search here first.

A personal favorite: Words and Deeds in American History, a collection of 90 digitized documents which tell the tale of our nation through the words of an eclectic group of Americans.

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