Saturday, November 19, 2011

Smaller Archives and Holdings Have Hidden Gems

I spent a couple of hours at the Williamson County Archives today. It's very convenient and at the most a 5 minute drive from my house. I don't have any known ancestors in Williamson County, Tennessee. So why do I go to the county archives? Although the holdings are not as large as a state archive or a big city library, they have sources there that are very useful, a few of which are not at the state archives. It is the same with Williamson County Library, which is maybe a 10 minute drive from my house. They have a wonderful Special Collections room.

When I go to either of these locations it is with the purpose of covering the basics or getting preliminary information. Maybe to get a history on a particular area, discover what sources they have for transcriptions of marriage documents, wills, or land records. I have found some very random collections at each repository. The library has quite a few books on Pennsylvania, the county archives has a nice collection on Virginia and North Carolina. Not exactly what you would expect of local holdings is it?

Once I've exhausted the local repositories for information, I can make better use of my time at the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA), which is at least a 25-30 minute drive. Once at the state archives I can focus on more detailed work like the manuscript collection, surname vertical files, books that aren't available at the local archives and newspapers. Even better, since I found a transcription in a book at the local archives, I now know what microfilm to focus on when I get to TSLA.

Basically it all comes down to making better use of my time and the resources offered at the state level. So the moral of the post is; state archives are wonderfully vast in their holdings, but don't ignore or discount the holdings of your local repositories. You just might be pleasantly surprised.


  1. You are so right about the smaller facilities. I've been to the Harrodsburg Historical Society in Kentucky and the Barton County Historical Society in Missouri and they both had great records. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Cinamon you are so right. IMHO by frequently conducting research in those repositories close to your home you are becoming the "Go-To Person" for Williamson County records and research!