The Center: A Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Capital Area
by Christina K. Schaefer
Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, MD, 1997
Reviewed by Doris V. Cummins
Any family historian making an initial trip to the Washington, DC area to do research is bound to be intimidated at the vast resources available and the skills needed to know how to access the materials. That's why Schaefer's book is such a boon both for preparation and as a reference guide on the scene.
Readers may be familiar with earlier editions of this work published under the title Lest We Forget: A Guide to Genealogical Research in the Nation's Capital that first appeared in 1965. Editors of subsequent editions focused on resources at the National Archives, the Library of Congress and the Library of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The Center is a new work, which, while keeping the purpose of Lest We Forget, expands its coverage and usefulness. In today's computer-oriented world, researchers can access catalogs and even some holdings of institutions described in the book; nevertheless the book is still needed to understand what genealogical resources are available and where they can be found in the nation's capital.
Besides traditional sources of information, the book lists;
- Departments and agencies of the federal government
- Regional, state, county and local government institutions
- Societies and associations with genealogical holdings
- Ethnic, cultural, and religious groups that have libraries or services to the public
- Colleges, universities, and private libraries with biographical and genealogical data
- Family History Centers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
An introductory chapter is a useful reminder of preparation needed before undertaking a research trip, plus a capsule of information related to getting around the area, transportation and useful telephone numbers.
Thereafter, chapters are organized around specific resources such as the National Archives; federal land records available at the Department of the Interior; resources at the three buildings of the Library of Congress. Each chapter includes a selection of relevant materials available through the Family History Library system, so you can follow-up with further research after your trip.
You'll find a chapter on the NSDAR library and a section devoted to the National Genealogical Society Library.
There is also an excellent chapter on lesser-used facilities for military records and research such as government departments and commissions, many of which have libraries open to the public.
Still another chapter focuses on federal government agencies including some in Maryland and Virginia. A separate chapter lists general sources for the District of Columbia since its records are divided among District agencies, the National Archives, Virginia and Maryland State archives and various city agencies.
Academic institutions and private archives are sometimes overlooked as well as societies and organizations with genealogical resources. Finally, there's a genealogical cross-reference in the back of the 146-page book that serves as a checklist for what's where. Maybe you should check that first and plan your route so you don't have to go back to the same place more than once. A bibliography for further reading and a few selected government forms for requesting records by mail plus an index complete this reference book.
There is simply a tremendous amount of essential information condensed in a truly useful format in this finding aid. Even if you never have the opportunity to personally research in the Washington, DC area, this book will suggest enormous research possibilities you may have overlooked.