Local Resources Rock! Dallas Public Library

I tend to write mostly about internet resources, but as you should know by now, when it comes to genealogical research, you can’t find everything online. I’ve written previously about the importance of spending time at local libraries, because they often contain location specific collections that can be found nowhere else. Today I thought I’d spotlight the Dallas Public Library.

Even though I don’t have any ancestors that even vacationed in Texas prior to my moving here, I still go to the downtown every week to research at the J. Erik Jonsson branch of the Dallas Public Library (1515 Young Street). OK, true, I have a volunteer shift at the desk for the Dallas Genealogical Society, but it does give me the opportunity weekly to peruse the absolutely fantastic genealogy department on the 8th floor on a regular basis.

Budget cuts have wreaked havoc on the library hours recently, so be sure to check before you show up to see if they’re opening at 10 am or noon, or to make sure they’re open at all, and not closed for a holiday or an employee furlough day. But it is definitely worth a visit, any time you are in Dallas – whether you have Texas ancestors or not. I recommend parking beneath the building in the public parking there. Its very reasonably priced, safe, and protects you from the crazy whims of Texas weather.

One half of the eighth floor is devoted to DPL’s genealogical collection, which is one of the largest in the South. The collections include over 80,000 books, 42,000 rolls of microfilm, 77,000 microfiche and over 700 maps and charts.

Along with the helpful staff at the reference desk, the Dallas Genealogical Society volunteers host an information desk to greet patrons and help direct them in their research.

An old-fashioned card catalog makes it easy to find information, and is the place to start. It organizes the collection by both locality and by surname. The locality drawers are organized by state, and then tabbed by county, with city and town items indexed alphabetically within the tabs. The surname catalog alphabetically organizes books found on the sixteen aisles devoted to family histories and genealogies. There is also a section of vertical files, arranged alphabetically by surname, that contain loose papers and donated materials including family group sheets, unbound manuscripts, and such.

There are 53 aisles of books organized by state. There are many town and county records, including published books on vital records, cemetery inscriptions, gazetteers and state and local histories within each state collection.

This library has over 500 genealogical journals and 200 family name publications. They claim that their collection includes nearly all of the major genealogical periodicals in the United States. I usually check their holdings before I send of a request for copies from PERSI, and more often than not, I find what I need is there at the Dallas library. Most publications’ back issues have been bound, and often contain indices as well, but searching PERSI online can often save time flipping through all those volumes.

The Texas/Dallas Collection on the 7th floor houses newspapers, including both Texas newspapers and collections from other major metropolitan areas.

The Genealogy Department has several excellent special collections. Some of the items for the US include the Draper manuscripts, all US city directories up to 1881, both the Barbour and Hale collections of Connecticut records, the Corbin collection of Massachusetts vital records, the Oklahoma Dawes Rolls, and Virginia land patents 1623-1774. The international records include the Domesday Book, Griffith’s Valuation of Ireland. The microfilm collections for both Military and Immigration (including Passenger Lists) are quite extensive.

The collection of Texas microfilm is amazing. It includes passenger lists of arrivals into Texas ports, military records from every conflict that Texans were involved including nearly 700 rolls of microfilm of Civil War Confederate pension applications, and Republic of Texas pensions and claims files. The collection also contains Convict Record ledgers from the Huntsville Penitentiary (1849-1954), but of particular interest are the vital records microfilm – the Index to Texas Births 1903-1976, the Dept. of Health Death Index 1964-2001, the Bureau of Vital Statistics’ Index to Texas Death Records 1903-1976, and an absolutely AWESOME collection of Texas marriage licenses and records, for every county in the state that has made the records available.

There are 3 photocopiers available for patron use in this department. Patrons must purchase a rechargeable copy card from the desk, because the copy machines do not accept coins. Copies are .15 each. Patrons also have access to 36 regular microfilm readers, and 4 film/fiche readers that are also printers, and two digital film reader/printers.

Twelve computers are dedicated to genealogical resources. Four computers have the library catalog and access to Ancestry.com, and six have various genealogical computer CD programs available for patron use on them. The other two also offer internet access.

Through the TexShare database system, patrons with a library card can access several databases at home, including HeritageQuest and Ebsco Newspapers. Ancestry.com is only available within the library. The library also offers free wireless internet for patrons at the library.

Through the Dallas Genealogical Society, the library acts as a satellite of the Salt Lake City Family History Center too, making their over 2 million rolls of microfilm available for a minimal rental cost. For accessing materials from just about any US library, interlibrary loan is available for books, microfilms and other media with a valid Dallas Public Library card, however most libraries will not loan genealogical materials. As with most library policies, librarians usually will offer to copy a few pages or the index to requested books for a small copy fee. In regards to newspapers, their policy is that they will not loan complete issues of periodicals or newspapers – but will photocopy articles.

Until his retirement this past summer, one of the most valuable resources of the 8th floor had been Lloyd Dewitt Bockstruck, the Supervisor of the Genealogical Section of the Dallas Public Library. A nationally known author and lecturer, and an expert in many areas of genealogical research including the American Revolution and Bounty Land Grants, during his time as Supervisor, Lloyd acquired and built the collections, making the Dallas Public Library’s genealogy department one of the very best in the country.

Even though I have no Texas ancestors, I continually find treasures pertaining to my own family history from every US state and even from other countries, every time I research at DPL. It is definitely worth a trip if you’re ever anywhere in the Dallas area. And if you are planning on coming, be sure to peruse the online catalog and prepare your research list before you come, to save time.

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