While MyHeritage.com was at the recent Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in Springfield, Illinois, chief genealogist Daniel Horowitz had an opportunity to visit the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum.
I was part of a detailed tour of the facility with Gwen Podeschi, history reference librarian.
Opened in October 2004, the library is maintained via state funds. Its main goal is to collect and preserve family and personal (non-official) correspondence and material of Abraham Lincoln and other Illinois state personalities. It holds more than 12 million historical items including 1,100 oral histories, 2 million manuscripts and 3,000 old and contemporary maps.
Collections also include early Mormon history, anti-slavery, coal miners’ accidents, train accidents and the 1893 World Colombian Exposition.
The library is home to the largest Lincoln documents database and such items as the documents of trials in which Lincoln was involved. The legal collection is fascinating as it also preserves the lists of juries in every case tried. If your relatives lived in Springfield, this can be a good resource as they may have served on one of those juries.
The law practice collection is not open to the public, but librarians are more than happy to help visitors find the information they seek. Appointments are suggested, and the collection is searchable via the Internet.
All Illinois state newspapers are microfilmed by state mandate. The films are available for browsing by visitors in the newspaper room, where microfilm readers are available. The room also contains a large index – on cards and online – of obituaries. The index is far from being complete as it is based on findings of visitors and researchers over the years.
Another function of the Library is to repair and restore old books and maps. On the tour, the curator provided a very interesting tip for genealogy research: The quality of the paper used in a book gives a hint of the economic status of the country in the time.
Gwen also displayed a 1719 map of the United States, Central America and part of South America, written in French, where I spotted my hometown of Caracas (Venezuela), which was well identified. The library’s oldest map dates from 1704 and the oldest book from 1580.
The library does not allow scanning, photography or copies of the documents. Photocopies are possible of some material, but unfortunately no digitizing project is currently underway.
Also on display is a framed pedigree chart of Lincoln’s family, recently donated by FamilySearch and presented by its chief genealogical officer David Rencher. It traces Lincoln’s ancestry for four generations. Copies will eventually be available for purchase.
MyHeritage users have built many family trees for the Lincoln family. You can see the search result here.
Just across the street from the library is the museum. It demonstrates a wonderful journey representing Lincoln’s life, from childhood through his presidency and assassination. Action figures, sound effects and high technology present with incredible realism every important moment. This is definitively a not-to-be missed place.
If you are researching Springfield, the state of Illinois or the Civil War era, here are some interesting links provided by the reference librarian:
Search for your ancestors: