The Genealogy Department at the Chattanooga Library

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As my assignment for Lesson 4 of the NGS Home Study Course, I was required to do a survey of genealogy offerings at my local library.  Because I live in one of the only places in the U.S. where I have no research, I’ve never really checked out my local library.  I was pleasantly surprised.

The full name of the library is actually the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library.  I shortened it, for obvious reasons.  In any case, it’s located in downtown Chattanooga, only a few blocks from my office.


Fortunately, my library is open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.  I was there for about 3 hours, actively identifying the genealogical holdings, and still didn’t see everything.


The department is divided into three main sections.  The first section, with approximately 4000 linear feet of shelves at one end of the floor, contains the Federal Documents Depository Collection.  The second section at the opposite end of the floor, with another 4000 linear feet of shelves, holds family histories, individual histories, bound genealogy periodicals, 3 rows of Civil War materials, and 8 rows of locality histories from all over the United States and the world.  There are 9 rows dedicated to Tennessee/Chattanooga historical works.  Roughly 300 linear feet are devoted to family histories.  You can find the microfilm cabinets and readers, study tables, computer stations, and the reference desk in the middle section.


The library receives roughly 31 genealogy periodicals, including the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record.  If you are a member of the library, you can access Ancestry, HeritageQuest, Fold3, Sanborn Maps, WorldVitalRecords, and GenealogyBank through the library’s computers.  You can also access all of these (except Ancestry) remotely.


The library has an extensive collection of local newspapers on microfilm. The smaller newspapers that would eventually merge to create the Chattanooga Times Free Press go all the way back to February 1873. They also have the New York Times on microfilm (which is handy if you don’t want to pay for your article – you can get the citation from the website and go to the library and look it up).


They also have TONS of microfilm that aren’t newspapers.  I think I stopped counting when I got to around the 30th filing cabinet.  They have 11 microfilm readers, 2 are equipped to print to paper.  There are also 2 digital microfilm scanners.


They also have an extensive manuscript collection with materials that date back to the 17th century.  The most impressive thing (to me, anyway) is that the library maintains an obituary index for the Chattanooga Times Free Press.  The index is updated each day by the staff directly from the newspaper.  They do this specifically for the genealogical value, according to one of the reference librarians.

During my adventures in the stacks, I realized that my library has more available to research than just local materials.  I found family histories from everywhere – including some in South Dakota and Indiana (where the majority of my U.S. research is centered).  So just because you don’t live where you have research, don’t think you can’t still find something at your local library!

(and, in case you’re wondering, the staff are incredibly patient and helpful.  Trust me.  I put them to the test.  They don’t have a “no-fly” list for the library do they?)

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Author: Jenny Lanctot

I have been working on my genealogy in earnest (albeit in fits and starts) since around 1990. My approach to my research has evolved exponentially since those days (read: I actually appear to know what I'm doing now), and I am enrolled in ProGen 24 on my way toward certification. I am a Paralegal in a small law firm in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I am the Editor of Southern Roots & Shoots, the quarterly publication of the Chattanooga Delta Genealogy Society. Aside from work, blogging, and my genealogy research, in my spare time I like to ... wait ... I forgot, I don't have any spare time. If I had ANY spare time, I would travel (for research) and write (about my research).

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