As we progress through resources for researching female ancestors during Women’s History Month I will highlight several Women’s Manuscript Collections. For today, I would like to spotlight the collection found at the Indiana Historical Society. But before we do that it’s important to understand why manuscript collections are vital to family history research.
In some cases, government records do not mention our female ancestors. Manuscript collections are an underutilized resource that can provide you with rich details. The downside to using manuscript collections is that unlike resources readily available and indexed online, manuscript collections require more effort since they are often neither indexed nor digitized.
What are Manuscripts?
Manuscripts are the unpublished papers of an individual, group, or business. They can come from a government entity or public official, a business, a non-profit group, religious organization, school, society, institution, membership group, or an individual. Manuscripts are written by community members, neighbors, friends and acquaintances.
Examples of manuscripts and other materials housed in these collections include theses/dissertations, correspondence, business documents, writings, scrapbooks, autograph albums, birthday books, ephemera, an author’s research for a book, vital record substitutes, court records, photograph albums, diaries/journals, maps, land records, church records, membership organization meeting notes and so much more.
Finding Aids for Manuscript Collections
There are many places to find information about manuscript collections. Union catalogs like NUCMC and Archive Grid provide a one stop place to search several repositories at once. Checking out library catalogs as well as collection finding aids for archives and museums in your ancestor’s locality might also help in your search. Also search the catalogs for museums, historical and genealogical societies.
One of my favorite catalogs is ArchiveGrid , a catalog of primary source materials held in repositories worldwide. Results include card catalog details as well as the repositories contact information.
The National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections also known as NUCMC, is a catalog of manuscript collections in libraries and archives in the United States and its territories. Not all collections are represented here but you can click a list of participating repositories to see if a collection in the locality where your ancestor lived in is included.
As you Search
Searching on a catalog for women’s manuscript collection can be tricky. In the case of an archival collection, search by your ancestor’s locality. Remember that the collection will not be indexed by the name of everyone mentioned in the collection. It will most likely be cataloged according to the locality, the name of the author, and other identifying features. While we genealogists are accustomed to searching for information based on our ancestor’s surname, that strategy will be least effective in your search through manuscript collections, unless the collection is authored by your ancestor.
Try various keywords as you search the catalog. Remember you are researching not just an individual but a community. Online archive/library catalogs many times have finding aids for their special collections. Consult these, a reference librarian, or archivist to better understand how to conduct a search.
The Indiana Historical Society
The Indiana Historical Society has a Women’s History Collection that includes everything from the correspondence, diaries, genealogies and photographs from individuals and families to the records of organizations such as Indiana Women’s Suffrage Association, Record Books 1851-1886 , Sigma Delta Pi Records 1930-1982 , Social Sewing Society Records 1851-1862, and the First Presbyterian Church (Delphi, Indiana) Records 1916-1933.
For those with Indiana ancestors, take a look through this collection for materials that might mention your ancestor.