Many genealogists with Connecticut ancestors dream about a
research trip to Hartford where the Connecticut Historical Society and the
Connecticut State Library house the two largest collections of genealogical
materials relating to Connecticut. Hartford might be described as a “one-stop
genealogical research destination,” especially for anyone with limited time or
ancestors from several Connecticut localities. This article will concentrate on
records available at the Connecticut Historical Society (CHS).
The Connecticut Historical Society, created in 1825 by a
resolution of the Connecticut General Assembly, originally had as its mission to
collect civil, ecclesiastical, and natural history materials relating to the
United States and especially to the state of Connecticut. No mention was made of
collecting family history materials. Fortunately, in the late nineteenth
century, CHS librarian Albert Carlos Bates recognized the importance of such
acquisitions and initiated their family history collection.
Early one Tuesday in May, I set out to revisit CHS. Staff
Genealogist Judith Ellen Johnson gave me a grand tour of the library during the
morning, and in the afternoon I used the library to work on research projects
and to collect information for future articles in this series.
The CHS library, located at One Elizabeth Street, Hartford,
CT 06105-2292, on the Hartford-West Hartford town line, is open from 10 a.m. to
5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and is closed Sundays, Mondays, and major
holidays. The non-member daily admission fee is $6.00 ($3.00 for seniors age 60
and over). Ample on-site parking is available. The reading room is set up for
the convenience of genealogists and historians. From previous visits, I knew I
would find a knowledgeable and helpful library staff. For details and directions
consult the CHS website or
telephone the library at (860) 236-5621.
Many of the library’s 100,000 books and 3 million manuscripts
would be of interest to genealogists. In addition to family histories and
compilations of vital and other records, researchers will find local, county,
and state histories. Social histories are also available to provide background
information about the places where ancestors lived. The majority of books and
manuscripts are housed in closed stacks. They can be located in card catalogs
and called for use in the reading room. Waiting time for materials called from
the stacks is minimal. CHS also houses collections of microfilm and microfiche,
as well as CD -ROMs.
While you are at the library, allow time to visit the CHS
museum, which has special and permanent exhibits featuring outstanding examples
of furniture, costumes, textiles, paintings, decorative arts, toys, and tools
from many eras, as well as exhibits about life in twentieth-century
You can also visit CHS online. CHS has recently developed a
new, easy-to-use website that
provides extensive information about the library and museum. The Online Exhibits page
may be of interest to genealogists. Exhibits include “Connecticut in 1836,”
featuring sketches of local buildings and views by John Warner Barber; “Hartford
in the 1850s,” featuring drawings, prints, and paintings by Joseph Ropes; and
“Civil War Treasures.” Connecticut
History Online, a collaborative website, provides online access to nearly
15,000 historic images from the archives of CHS, Mystic Seaport, and the Thomas
J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut. Images are enhanced by
brief historical commentaries. You might find historic drawings, prints, or
photographs of places your ancestors frequented. Examples include town greens,
factories, churches, and bird’s-eye views of towns. Additional images will be
added in the future.
Can’t Travel to Hartford?
If you are unable to visit the library and you do not use the
Internet, consider becoming a member of CHS. (Consider becoming a member even if
you can!) The annual membership fee is $25.00 for students, individuals living
outside Connecticut, and anyone age 65 or over. In-state individual memberships
CHS members may borrow for one month up to three volumes from
the Society’s Loan Collection of 1,000 genealogies and town histories (this
privilege also applies to members of the Society of Mayflower Descendants in
Connecticut). The fee is $5 per volume plus return postage. A catalog of the
collection and information about borrowing books is available on the CHS
website or you can contact the CHS
CHS volunteers provide a research service for genealogists
with Connecticut ancestors. They will search CHS library sources for information
about specific individuals. The fee per inquiry is $15 for members and $25 for
non-members, plus photocopy and service charges. To obtain details and forms
contact Judith Ellen Johnson by regular mail at the library address listed above
or by email.
The large CHS photographic
collection might include a photo of one of your ancestors. Nancy Finlay,
Curator of Graphics, will search the collections for images of specific
individuals. She will respond to telephone calls directed to (860) 236-5621,
ext. 236 or to inquiries via email or
regular mail. You may also contact her to schedule an appointment between
1:00-5:00 p.m., Mondays through Fridays.
Although Connecticut is the principal focus for CHS
collections, other New England states as well as New York, Pennsylvania, and
Ohio are included. You will find the following valuable resources:
Historical and genealogical manuscripts comprise the most
outstanding and unique aspect of the CHS library collections. Manuscripts date
from the early 1700s to the present. Collections include family and business
papers, collections relating to ethnic and racial communities in Connecticut,
and information about occupations of Connecticut residents. Many of the
collections have finding aids.
The historical manuscript collections, accessed through the
card catalog, can be helpful to genealogists by providing information concerning
historical events that affected the lives of ancestors as well as about
occupations and the ways of life in different times and places.
Historical manuscript collections of possible interest to
The Genealogical Manuscript Collections, also accessed
through the card catalog, includes compilations prepared by professional and
amateur genealogists. While the quality varies, the collection includes some
excellent, fully documented genealogies, filed by family surname or town. In
addition to family histories, there are data sheets and copies or abstracts of
bible, vital, church, land, and probate records. In some cases the sources of
the information may be difficult to determine. In all cases, information should
be verified in other sources. Surnames with sizeable collections include Barnes,
Brown, Durant, Gillette, Higgins, Kibbe, Kinney, Meacham, Ogden, Parmelee,
Royce, Smith, Sykes, Tillinghast, Tinker, Tuller, Waterman, and Whitelesey.
Several genealogical manuscript collections merit
· The Connecticut Towns Collection contains documents
from most Connecticut towns. While not complete, town records may include
abstracts of cemetery inscriptions, probate records, vital records, church
records, land records, town meeting minutes, and abstracts of newspaper marriage
and death notices.
Maps and atlases are useful resources for genealogists.
Exactly where is that town located? Did its name change? Did its borders change
or did state boundaries change? (Connecticut borders with adjoining states
changed several times.)
Regional maps showing topographical features can help explain
migration patterns while local and state maps from different time periods can
show shifting borders. Local maps and atlases can pinpoint exactly where
ancestors lived. The names of residents are often noted on manuscript maps, as
well as on some old atlases. There’s a good chance that CHS has a map or atlas
of interest in its extensive collection.
Maps and atlases at CHS include:
The Hartford Courant and Hartford Times from
1949 to 1976 are available on microfilm. (Earlier issues of the Times are
available in hard copy.) The library collection also includes issues of early
newspapers from other Connecticut towns. Some of these issues are unique and can
be found only at CHS. Anyone who has used old local newspapers for research
knows they are often more personal than large city newspapers. Although
information in birth, marriage, and death notices may be minimal, columns about
neighborhoods provide interesting details about daily lives. Featured articles
often describe in considerable detail such events as graduations, reunions,
accidents, political rallies, meetings of local organizations, and other local
Other Collections of Interest to Genealogists
1930s WPA Historic House Survey
During the 1930s the Works Progress Administration (WPA)
undertook a little-known statewide census of old and distinctive buildings in
Connecticut, similar to the statewide survey of historic buildings sponsored by
the Connecticut Historical Commission during the late 1970s. The WPA survey
focused on structures built prior to about 1850. Arranged by town, the survey is
reasonably complete. Each building is described in detail on one page, and the
description is accompanied in most cases by a photograph.
Military collections are available for the French and Indian
War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. The most
extensive of these is the Connecticut American Revolution Collection, which
includes journals, diaries, and letters of participants. The Civil War
Collection includes broadsides, maps, letters, and photographs. Some finding
aids for the Civil War Collection are available at the CHS
Depending on where your Connecticut ancestors lived and what
they did, you might find information of interest in one of the small,
specialized collections at CHS. For example, if you had a Connecticut minister
in your family, one or more of his sermons might be in the extensive sermon
collection. If an ancestor went to Yale, consult the collection of Yale
materials. Or if an ancestor attended a private school in Connecticut, you might
find a school history or catalog. Did you have a Connecticut author in your
family? If so, consult the collection of works by and about Connecticut writers.
If your ancestor was a Connecticut printer, some of his work may be included in
the special collection of Connecticut imprints. Was your Connecticut ancestor a
noted person? Perhaps a biography is included in the extensive collection of
biographies of Connecticut people. You may find a late eighteenth or
nineteenth-century trade catalog or the business records for the Connecticut
company for which an ancestor once worked.
Do you want to know what the weather was like way back then?
An old Connecticut almanac from the CHS almanac collection should answer your
While at CHS, check to determine if their collections include
a portrait of your ancestor. Genealogical information about the subject and his
or her family usually accompany portraits in the CHS collection. Similar
genealogical information is associated with museum collections of furniture,
furnishings, textiles, costumes, and samplers.
CHS has a surprisingly large collection of British materials.
While you are there you might want to look in their collection of bound English
parish registers and probate records or their collection of Victorian histories.
So much information and so little time! Plan your trip in
advance to take advantage of every research opportunity CHS offers.
Special thanks go to CHS Genealogist Judith Ellen Johnson for
her time and effort in providing information and editorial comments.