One of the most beautiful libraries that I have ever visited was the Feehan Memorial Library at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois (about an hour’s drive north of Chicago). Built in 1929, and inspired by sixteenth-century Italian palaces, the architecture of the library may not be the most practical, but it is definitely gorgeous. The McEssy Theological Resource Center, which was a 2004 addition to the library, is not as classical in appearance as the main building, but it is also beautiful. The library contains approximately 200,000 volumes and specializes in theological resources.
The University of Saint Mary of the Lake is a Catholic seminary that trains men to become priests. Originally founded in 1844, it closed in 1866, due to financial difficulties. However, Archbishop (later Cardinal) George Mundelein helped push for its 1924 reopening, and ultimately influenced the Illinois village where the school was located to be named after him. In 1926, the new University was one of the hosts for the 28th Eucharistic Congress in 1926, which is when Catholics from around the world gather together to perform Communion. Today, the Univeristy of Saint Mary of the Lake has approximately 150 seminarians, but 1000 students total in all of its programs (both part-time and full-time).
In the McEssy Theological Resource Center, there is a hidden museum. Visitors must specifically make an appointment if they would like to see it. This museum includes a large variety of objects, many of which were from Cardinal Mundelein’s personal collection. Included in this museum are old European furniture, Catholic religious items, and even the first serial editions of Charles Dickens’ books.
The University of Saint Mary of the Lake offers architectural tours of the campus upon request. However, visitors are welcome to visit the campus on their own as well. The campus has beautiful buildings, a picturesque lake, and a trail surrounding the lake. Because the university is religious in nature, people are asked to dress conservatively upon visiting. The University also offers housing for those interested in hosting a retreat there.
If you live in the area and need a quiet place to study, the University of Saint Mary of the Lake is definitely a worthwhile place to visit, both in its library and outside of it.
One of the most iconic symbols of the United States is the Statue of Liberty in New York City. Completed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and Gustave Eiffel (who, soon afterwards, built Paris’ Eiffel Tower) in 1886, France gave this statue to the United States as a gift. Her fame grew after Ellis Island opened in 1892, as a federal immigration station that processed new immigrants to the United States. Since Ellis Island is next to the Statue of Liberty, her beacon welcomed approximately 12 million immigrants who came to the U.S. through Ellis Island, upon reaching their new home.
Ellis Island functioned as an immigration station from 1892 until its closure in 1954. Upon arrival, officials processed who would be entering the United States. Although other ports accepted new immigrants to the United States, Ellis Island accepted the most. According to the History Channel’s article about Ellis Island, approximately 40% of today’s U.S. population can trace an ancestor to Ellis Island. Throughout its time in operation, the United States passed a variety of immigration laws preventing different groups from entering the country, including polygamists, criminals, and the mentally ill. That meant that officials had to check each person, to see if they qualified to enter the country. This inspection included a medical checkup. Immigration officials usually inspected the would-be immigrants while they were still on the boat, before their arrival to New York. However, those with the lowest-class tickets had to wait on Ellis Island itself to learn about their fate.
Today, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty are owned by the National Park Service. Both sites are free, however, visitors must purchase tickets through Statue Cruises to get to the two islands. Ferries run every twenty minutes from Battery Park on Manhattan Island. The ferry from Battery Park first goes to Liberty Island, where visitors can get off and see the Statue of Liberty. Once they are ready, they can then take a ferry to the next stop, which is Ellis Island. Audio tours are included with your ferry ticket, so if you are like me and want to listen to all of it, you could be touring the islands for hours!
In addition to the basic tour options, you can also purchase tickets through Statue Cruises to go up to the Statue of Liberty’s crown. However, because only a few people can go up at a time, you must purchase these tickets far in advance. In the past, people used to also be able to go up onto the Statue’s torch, but not anymore. I did not get to climb up to the crown, but I did get a ticket that allowed me to go inside the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, which has a museum describing the history of the Statue. As of 2019, visitors can now also visit the new Statue of Liberty Museum, located near the Statue of Liberty. Since I visited the Statue of Liberty before 2019, I sadly did not get to visit it
Prior to Ellis Island, many immigrants entered New York through Castle Garden. Originally a fort called Castle Clinton that was built during the War of 1812, it eventually became an entertainment center. Then, from 1855-1890, it transformed into an immigration center that processed approximately 8 million immigrants. After Ellis Island opened, Castle Garden became an aquarium. Today, you can visit Castle Clinton (it is known by its original name now) while waiting for your Statue of Liberty ferry, however, there is not a lot to see there.
When the government decided to make Ellis Island an immigration center, they enlarged the island using landfill soil (including soil taken out while building New York’s new subway system). If you choose to use the audio tour on Ellis Island, you will find yourself walking throughout the entire main building there. This includes the impressive main hall, with the high, tiled ceiling. Along the way, you will also hear some stories of different immigrants’ experiences. If you decide to skip the audio tour, you can still read a variety of signs about the facility placed throughout the building. If you are interested in taking a virtual tour of Ellis Island in the meantime, a link to it is available here. The virtual tour allows you to view the Island in either summer or winter. https://www.nps.gov/hdp/exhibits/ellis/Ellis_Index.html?html5=prefer
One common myth about Ellis Island is that immigration officials often changed the names of new immigrants to make them more Americanized. However, Ellis Island attempts to dispel this myth. According to signage there, the reality was that the immigrants themselves changed their own names prior to arriving at Ellis Island. The immigration officials only checked to make sure that the immigrants were qualified to enter the country. Changing names was not their job. This myth has even persisted in my own family lore. I apparently had a relative whose last name was Asch (supposedly a distant relative of the Yiddish writer, Sholem Asch). Since the name “Asch” sounded too much like “Ass,” he (probably not immigration officials) changed his name to Flax.
I should also mention that there are many other buildings surrounding the main building on Ellis Island, such as a kitchen, measles ward, laundry room, etc. However, since these buildings are expensive to maintain, most are in poor condition. For those who are interested, Statue Cruises does sell tickets for hard hat tours of some of these buildings. As the name implies, you must wear a hard hat during the tour, because of the decrepit condition of the buildings.
Since so many Americans came to the United States through Ellis Island, Ellis Island hosts an awesome database, where you can search all of their passenger records for free. All you have to do is create an account: https://heritage.statueofliberty.org/passenger. Additionally, on the third floor of the main Ellis Island building, there is the Bob Hope Memorial Research Library (Actor and comedian, Bob Hope, came to the U.S. from England at the age of four, in 1908.), where people can perform extensive research if they like. Included at the library are the oral histories of approximately 2,000 immigrants.
Although Illinois is known as the “Land of Lincoln,” Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, not Illinois. The motto “Land of Lincoln” came from the fact that Lincoln lived in Illinois for a significant portion of his life, and also became its senator. Barack Obama also served as senator of Illinois. However, Ronald Reagan was the only U.S. president actually born in Illinois.
Ronald Reagan was born in an apartment in rural Tampico, Illinois, which is about 2 hours west of Chicago. It is maintained by the Tampico Historical Society, which provides tours for visitors. On your tour, you not only see the apartment unit owned by Reagan’s parents, but also have a chance to see the recreated bank that would have been located below it when Reagan was a boy. Reagan was born in Tampico on February 6, 1911, but did not live in his birthplace for long. His father was an alcoholic, so the family’s income was unsteady, meaning that they moved around often.
Reagan’s family moved to Dixon, Illinois in 1920. Dixon is about 30 minutes northeast of Tampico (about 1 hour and 40 minutes west of Chicago). Even in Dixon, Reagan’s family did not stay in one home for long. However, one of the homes that he lived in has become a historic site that provides tours for visitors. Reagan lived there with his parents and older brother from 1920 to 1924. After that, the family moved around to other parts of Dixon.
The Reagan Boyhood Home became a historic site, because in 1980, when Reagan was running for president, the local mailman informed the city of Dixon that the home was for sale, and might be a profitable investment if Reagan won the presidency. He was ultimately correct.
For both of Reagan’s tours, you learn a lot about Reagan’s life, and how his job as a radio sportscaster eventually led to his career as a Hollywood actor. Although never becoming a well-renowned actor, his first wife (married 1940-49), Jane Wyman, was an Academy Award winner for the 1948 film Johnny Belinda. Reagan eventually entered the political arena, and served as a Republican President of the United States from 1981 to 1989.
Admission to the Reagan Boyhood Home has a fee, however, admission to his Birthplace site is free. My favorite part about the Boyhood Home was that when Reagan visited it after it became a museum, he pulled out a loose brick that was right outside the fireplace hearth, to show that he used to hide his money from his brother under there. My tour guide then proceeded to pull up the loose brick. As for the Birthplace site, my favorite part was when the tour guide explained that when Reagan visited there after his presidency, he went through the window of his apartment into the apartment next door, to recreate how his mother used to hand him over to his neighbor through the window when she needed someone to babysit him. After telling me this story, my tour guide then permitted me to go through the window and recreate this incident.
If you decide to visit Reagan’s Boyhood Home, try to also stop by his Birthplace site, since they are only 30 minutes apart from each other. Be sure to check the visitor hours for both locations, especially since they are not open during the colder months. If you drive to Dixon and Tampico from Chicago using Interstate 88, you may notice signs that say “Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway,” in honor of Reagan.
Chicago ranks among the top three cities with the largest Ukrainian population in the United States. The first Ukrainian immigrants came to Chicago during a wave in the late nineteenth century, but three more waves of immigration followed throughout the twentieth century. Many Ukrainians settled in a western area of Chicago, which is now known as Ukrainian Village. Although several Ukrainian churches are still there, most Ukrainians are now dispersed throughout Chicago and its suburbs, and are no longer concentrated within a single neighborhood.
Ukrainian Village has two Ukrainian museums. The first is the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, which was founded in 1971. I have never visited it. The second is called the Ukrainian National Museum and was founded in 1952. I have visited the latter one. It is located across the street from the gorgeous Saints Volodymyr & Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church, and primarily displays Ukrainian arts and crafts, in addition to some snippets of Ukrainian history.
The museum’s arts and crafts exhibits include a variety of Ukrainian clothing, dishes, etc. They also contain a variety of beautiful pysanky. Pysanky are specially decorated Easter eggs. First, the yolk is removed from the egg through a tiny hole, and then the remaining eggshell is intricately decorated with colorful dyes.
A significant portion of the museum discusses the Ukrainian famine or genocide of 1932-1933, known as the Holdomor. During that time, Ukraine belonged to the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Joseph Stalin. In accordance with his Communist ideology, Stalin attempted to bring all of Ukraine’s farmland under governmental control. Many famers resisted giving up their land, and were therefore sent to prison camps in Siberia. Because the farmers did not reach their required governmental quota of grain, Stalin punished the people by removing all of their remaining produce. Ultimately, between 4 to 10 million Ukrainians died as a result of the man-made famine. During this time, Stalin also attempted to discourage the use of the Ukrainian language, and destroy Ukrainian nationalism.
The museum describes the Holdomor using newspaper clippings, photos, and signs. Additionally, on the day when I visited the museum, a historian/staff member walked around the museum answering questions that visitors may have had regarding the exhibits. She recommended that we watch the 2017 film Bitter Harvest, which dramatically portrays the Holdomor. It did a decent job of describing what happened. As of 2020, less than 40 countries acknowledge that the Holdomor was a genocide, while Russia continues to deny that the deaths were intentional.
The Ukrainian National Museum typically hosts different events throughout the year (when there are no pandemics). It also maintains a library and archives, which are available to researchers upon appointment.
Sources and Further Reading
Bitter Harvest. Directed by George Mendeluk. Los Angeles, CA: Roadside Attractions, 2017.
One of the strangest museums that I have ever visited was the Lenin Museum in Tampere, Finland. As its name implies, it is dedicated to the first leader of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin. It is currently the only museum outside of Russia dedicated to him.
Finland has a museum focused on Lenin, because the building that houses the museum used to be the Tampere Workers’ Hall, where Russian revolutionaries, including Vladimir Lenin, secretly met in 1905. In 1809, Russia took Finland from Sweden in the Finnish War, and moved the country’s capital from Turku to Helsinki (the former is closer to Stockholm, Sweden and the latter to St. Petersburg, Russia). Because Finland was under Russian rule, Lenin and his comrades felt safer conducting a revolutionary meeting in outlying Finland than on mainland Russia. The 1905 meeting has even greater significance, because that is where 35-year-old Lenin first met 27-year-old Joseph Stalin, who also attended the meeting in Tampere. Stalin ultimately became the second leader of the Soviet Union (and a mass murderer).
As you walk through the Lenin Museum, you follow a chronological timeline of Vladimir Lenin’s life. The displays include photographs, signs, and some objects, which all help flesh out who the man was. The Museum came into existence after Finland had already gained independence from Russia, but during Joseph Stalin’s rule, so visitors from the Soviet Union would visit Finland to see it. The goal was to bridge the gap between East and West. However, the Museum now strives to take a more critical approach of Lenin than it did during those years.
Perhaps the strangest part of the museum were the two wax figures near the entrance of the Museum. One is of Lenin in a motorcycle sidecar, and the other is of Stalin standing nearby. Visitors are welcome to dress up (put on a leather jacket and driving goggles) and sit on the motorcycle that “drives” Vladimir Lenin’s sidecar, and then take pictures. Since neither Lenin or (especially) Stalin are viewed favorably by most of the world today, the whole place felt strange to me. However, it was still historically interesting.
The Museum’s gift shop was different. Its souvenirs included a “capitalist pig” piggy bank and stuffed toys of Lenin, Karl Marx, etc. It also sold Russian nesting dolls of Russia’s leaders, with Vladimir Putin being the biggest “doll,” and Vladimir Lenin nesting as the smallest “doll” inside. A reverse version of this was in one of the Museum’s displays.
If you ever visit Tampere, Finland, there are many potential museums to visit. However, the Lenin Museum may be the most unique among them, so is worth a stop.
Many people from China began arriving to the United States during the California Gold Rush of 1849. Afterwards, many of these Chinese immigrants found jobs building the transcontinental railroad, which connected the Eastern and Western coasts of the United States via railroad. Once the railroad was completed in 1869, a large number of these immigrants then sought work elsewhere. It is around this time that Chinese immigrants began moving to Chicago, to find better jobs and less discrimination.
The Chinese American Museum of Chicago was founded in 2005 to document Chicago’s Chinese history. The first floor of the former warehouse displays the Museum’s temporary exhibits. When I visited, the temporary exhibit was called “The Chinese Helped Build the Railroad – The Railroad Helped Build America.” This wonderful exhibit showed how much we owe to the hard work of the Chinese immigrants who helped build the United States’ transcontinental railroad in the 1860s. Unfortunately, the Chinese workers received inferior treatment in comparison to other groups who worked on the transcontinental railroad. For example, they received lower wages than others and were often the ones made to do the dangerous work of dynamiting the mountains, to make space for the railroad.
The second floor of the Museum is the permanent exhibit that displays the history of Chicago’s Chinese history. My visit there began with a 15-minute video that a staff member put on for me to watch. The video is called “My Chinatown: Stories from Within,” and was created in collaboration with the Chicago History Museum. It not only uses a screen, but also uses props next to the screen as part of the presentation.
After watching the video, I made my way through the rest of the permanent exhibit. It includes a beautiful diorama from Chicago’s former Wentworth Avenue Ling Long Museum, which closed in the 1980s. The Ling Long Museum was built during the Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress in 1933-34, and displayed dioramas of famous Chinese stories. The diorama at the Chinese American Museum of Chicago is beautiful and intricate. Unfortunately, it is the sole surviving diorama from the Ling Long Museum. The remaining dioramas burned down when the Chinese American Museum of Chicago experienced a devastating fire in 2008.
Through objects, photographs, and signs, the Chinese American Museum of Chicago documents Chicago’s Chinese history from the nineteenth century up until the present day. This includes mention of the Chinese Exclusion Law of 1882, which banned Chinese immigration to the United States. That means that Chinese immigration to Chicago went on hold for several decades. However, after World War II, the restrictions were lifted. Many Chinese immigrants began arriving in the United States during China’s political upheaval in the 1950s. I found it interesting that the last section of the Museum’s exhibit mentions how many of the more recent Chinese immigrants to the United States were Chinese children adopted by U.S. families.
The Chinese American Museum of Chicago is a great place to learn the history of Chicago’s Chinese community. It is located in Chicago’s Chinatown, in the South Side of Chicago. While in Chinatown, you can also grab a meal at one of the numerous Chinese restaurants there, and look at some of the Chinese-inspired architecture in the neighborhood.
The Smithsonian is a network of 20 museums run by the U.S. government. Perhaps the most popular of them is the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. Completed in 1964, and originally called the National Museum of History and Technology, the museum, unsurprisingly, contains the largest collection of United States history in the world.
The National Museum of American History is huge, so I have not seen all of its exhibits. However, I have seen one of its most famous exhibits: The Star-Spangled Banner. As its name implies, it displays the flag that inspired an American lawyer, Francis Scott Key, to write “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the poem that became the U.S. national anthem. Key was temporarily held hostage on a British boat during the War of 1812, and watched as the British bombed Baltimore in September of 1814. After an anxious night, Key saw Fort McHenry raise its 15-starred American flag the next day, showing him that the British had lost the battle. Out of joy, Key penned and eventually published his poem, which he ironically suggested be sung to a British tune. Congress did not officially declare “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem until 1931. The Star-Spangled Banner exhibit is located in a dimmed room, in order to protect the huge flag from light damage.
Another awesome exhibit at the National Museum of American History is called “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War.” This exhibit documents all of the wars the United States has fought in, using artifacts, photographs, signs, and videos. Across from this exhibit is the Gunboat Philadelphia, which was used in America’s Revolutionary War in 1776, under the command of Benedict Arnold, who later became notorious as a traitor. The ship sunk in battle, but was later salvaged in 1935.
Other exhibits at the National Museum of American History include a display of the dresses worn by many of America’s First Ladies (the U.S. Presidents’ wives). It is fun to see how women’s fashions have changed over the years. The museum also displays part of the original counter from the Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, North Carolina, where the first sit-in occurred. That is when four African American men went into a Woolworth’s store to eat lunch, in 1960, and stayed in their seats, even though the store’s policy was to only serve white people. Their action started a chain-reaction, causing many people to take part in sit-ins throughout the South. Other exhibits included at the museum are ones on technology, U.S. currency, transportation, and a 200-year-old house from Massachusetts. Additionally, miscellaneous items from the museum’s collection can be found throughout the building.
The Museum is currently working on renovating a fun exhibit called “National Treasures of Popular Culture,” which includes items from athletes, actors, musicians, etc. The most famous of these items is still currently on display, even though the rest of this exhibit is closed. That is the Ruby Slippers, worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz.
As of July 3,2020, the National Museum of American History is still closed, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in general, it is free to the public, as are the rest of the Smithsonian Museums.
Most people may not know it, but Illinois has made an important contribution to barbed wire history. Although different people had been working on barbed wire during the mid-nineteenth century, it was not until 1874 that developments really skyrocketed in DeKalb, Illinois.
According to my tour guide at the Joseph F. Glidden Homestead in DeKalb, Illinois, when three DeKalb farmers visited a local fair, each man was individually inspired to perfect a fence that was on display there. The fence at the fair was wooden with metal spikes sticking out of it. Its purpose was to keep cattle away from the crops. At first, the three men started working on a better fence, unbeknownst to the other, but once they learned about each other, competition began.
One of the farmers was Joseph F. Glidden. He was from New Hampshire, but made his way west to Illinois, which was then frontier land. The other farmer was Jacob Haish, an immigrant from Germany. The third, who was also the youngest, was from New York and named Isaac L. Ellwood. According to my tour guide, Ellwood’s wife told him that Glidden’s wire was better than his, so he ended up partnering with Glidden, and did the promoting for him. Glidden ended up receiving the patent for his wire in 1874, and created a machine that allowed it to be made quickly. Despite Glidden’s official recognition as the creator of the barbed wire design we use today, until his death, Haish continued to contest him.
Today, you can have tours of both Glidden’s and Ellwood’s homes, which are where you can also learn about the history of barbed wire. Unfortunately, Haish’s mansion was eventually torn down, so it is no longer standing. However, you can see furniture from his mansion in the Ellwood Mansion visitor center’s museum.
The Joseph F. Glidden Homestead is located next to Northern Illinois University, which is a state school. This is no coincidence, since Glidden donated his land for the creation of the school. Haish ended up donating money to create the university’s library, as well as to create the DeKalb Public Library. Ellwood also contributed money to start the university, and built the university president’s house.
The Glidden Homestead is only open for tours on Tuesdays and approximately one Sunday a month. The tour guide is a knowledgeable historian, who spends a lot of time discussing the history of barbed wire, in addition to the history of Glidden himself. Although the home was undoubtedly surrounded by farmland in the past, it is now along a busy street, so is easy to miss when getting to it. Here is the home’s website: http://www.gliddenhomestead.org/index.html
Ellwood’s mansion is not too far away from Glidden’s, and also offers tours. However, the tours are offered more regularly than they are at Glidden’s home. Additionally, the tours have a stronger focus on the home itself, because it is a significantly larger one than Glidden’s. According to my Glidden Homestead tour guide, this is not because Glidden made less money from his barbed wire patent, but because Glidden used his money to work on tinkering with other inventions, rather than on using the money for himself. Here is the website for Ellwood’s mansion: http://www.ellwoodhouse.org
I am not sure if all of the tour guides for the Ellwood mansion do this, but my tour guide also took my tour group inside a mini playhouse that Ellwood’s kids used. Built in 1891, it was like walking inside a little dollhouse.
Located approximately 60 miles west of Chicago, DeKalb is worth a visit if you want to learn more about the history of barbed wire. For what may have seemed like a small, practical invention for farmers, it certainly caught on internationally, and took on many uses.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, also known as “The Met,” in New York City is arguably the best art museum in the United States. Founded in 1870, the Museum continues to expand as it collects more and more artwork. This past April, 2020, The Met turned 150 years old.
Published in 1967, the children’s novel, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler won the prestigious American children’s literature award, the Newbery Medal, in 1968. E. L. Konigsburg’s beloved book is about two siblings who decide to run away and live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During my visit to The Met, it did not take me long to want to live there too.
Reminiscent of The British Museum in London, The Met’s collection ranges from ancient archaeology to modern art. Unfortunately, because the Museum is so large, I was only able to see a small portion of it. I was especially sad that I was unable to see The Met Cloisters, which is a separate building that opened in 1938 and displays Medieval European architecture and replicated Medieval gardens. In 2016, the Met opened a third building called The Met Breuer, which solely displays modern and contemporary art.
One of the highlights that I saw during my visit to The Met were its Period Rooms in the American Wing. These recreated rooms provide you a peak into what certain rooms, such as a bedroom or dining room, would have looked like during different periods of American history. Items in these rooms include furniture and lamps from varying periods. Another section of The Met, similarly, recreates historic European rooms.
Unfortunately, I did not have time to go through these, but The Met has a Greek and Roman Art section, an Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas section, an Egyptian Art section, an Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia section, an Asian Art section, a Photographs section, and many other sections. However, I did get to briefly go through the European Paintings, 1250-1800 section and The American Wing. As I went through them, I surprised myself by recognizing many of the paintings, which are obviously famous if I immediately recognized them.
I spent most of my time in the Ancient Near Eastern Art section. As its name implies, it has archaeological objects from the Ancient Near East (the Middle East today). The Met purchased some of these objects, received some as gifts, and acquired other by participating in archaeological digs. Some of the objects that were acquired from England were dug by Sir Max Mallowan, a British archaeologist from the 20th century, and husband of the famous mystery writer, Agatha Christie.
Because The Met is so large, visitors have the option of taking guided or audio tours. I am not 100% sure, but I think the guided tours are part of admission, but the audio tours are an additional fee. The audio tour is available in up to ten languages. The Met also offers tours, for a fee, to a select number of visitors prior to opening to the public each day.
I want to mention that The Met has a research library, which primarily serves staff members and students.
The Met is currently closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as of right now, it plans to reopen in August, 2020. Until then, The Met’s website provides detailed information about the items that it houses. It also provides a virtual tour through Google Arts & Culture.
The largest research library focused on genealogy in the entire world is the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. However, the second largest genealogy library in North America is the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Both libraries are open to the public for free, however, the first is a private, Mormon library, while the second is a public library.
The Allen County Public Library functions like most public libraries, in that it has popular books, DVDs, etc. available for the local community to borrow. However, one large section on the second floor of the library houses the genealogy collection, which does not circulate, meaning that you can only use its resources inside the library, and not take them home.
When you walk into the Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library, you are greeted by several librarians sitting at a desk. They are specially trained to assist patrons with genealogy research. When I visited the library, I went to the desk, and a librarian provided me with a basic orientation of the Genealogy Center. This means that she explained to me the layout of the collection, provided me with a map, and gave me brochures related to the places where my family originated. These brochures listed helpful resources to get me started on researching specific topics of interest. The librarian also provided me with a temporary password so that I could log into any of the research computers and access the genealogy databases.
The Genealogy Center’s website recommends that you do some preliminary research before visiting. For example, they recommend that you visit their website, http://www.genealogycenter.org/, to see what resources they may have on your topic, thus saving you some time upon your visit. Additionally, the Genealogy Center’s website provides some orientation videos that you can watch ahead of time: http://www.genealogycenter.org/Services/orientation.
The Genealogy Center’s collection includes books, microfiche (newspapers, books, etc. compressed into rolls or slides of film that can only be read using a microfiche reader), videos, and databases. The majority of the collection focuses on United States history. However, there is also a significant amount of resources focused on other countries, since the United States’ population has historically been made up of immigrants from all over the world. The library’s databases are only available inside the library, but are free to use, and include Ancestry.com and numerous newspaper databases.
The Genealogy Center has a large reading room full of tables, where you can sit and research. It also has microfiche readers and photocopiers that you can use to scan and copy pages from books. When you are finished using a book, you are asked to place it on a cart, instead of putting it away yourself. This not only ensures that the book is re-shelved correctly, but also helps the library keep usage statistics to see how often a resource has been used.
The Allen County Public Library partners with the Internet Archive to scan print books and place them online. What that means is that if a library wants to work with the Internet Archive to digitize a lot of books in its collection, but is not located close to the Internet Archives’ headquarters in San Francisco, California, it can work with one of the Internet Archives’ partners instead. For example, libraries located in the Midwestern United States that want to digitize their books with the Internet Archive would be assigned to work with the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, since that library is located closer to them than San Francisco is.
Any serious genealogist should definitely consider visiting the Allen County Public Library.