Seattle Public Library
Contact Information[edit | edit source]
Telephone: 206-386-4636, ask for Genealogy
Websites and databases:
Description of Collections[edit | edit source]
Overview[edit | edit source]
The Seattle Public Library’s Genealogy Collection is one of the largest in the Pacific Northwest. The library collects genealogical materials to enable Seattle area residents to research family histories without leaving Seattle.
There are two genealogy librarians available to assist with research. We offer tours of our collection as well as free classes on genealogical research. You can use our online databases, schedule 30-minute appointments with a genealogy librarian or visit our Genealogy Collection to find out about your family’s roots.
The Genealogy Collection dates from 1926 and has grown to become a nationally recognized collection. The Collection at The Seattle Public Library is the largest and primary genealogy resource in Washington State.
Modern mobility has resulted in individuals migrating to Seattle from all parts of the U.S. and Canada. Therefore, the Genealogy Collection includes materials from both the local area and other regions of the U.S. and Canada. Also, efforts are made to collect materials related to all ethnic groups that have participated in Seattle’s history.
Materials on Washington State history and genealogy are collected extensively and in conjunction with the Seattle Collection. Washington State materials falling within the Seattle Collection Scope are collected primarily for the Seattle Collection; however, selected titles are duplicated in the genealogy collection to make them more broadly available.
Materials related to other regions of the U.S. are collected to provide information on local researchers’ ancestors and their westward migration. The collection includes:
The collection includes genealogical and historical material from all U.S. states and territories and the Canadian Provinces. Materials from other areas are acquired when they contribute to Seattle area research needs.
Basic reference tools include bibliographies, periodical indexes, guidebooks (including adoption research), census indexes, maps, and gazetteers. These are collected without regard to geographic coverage. Instruction books on how to conduct genealogical research are included in both the circulating and reference collections.
Family histories are typically published in limited numbers and are often received as gifts from authors, genealogy societies, interested family members, and publishers. These publications are authors’ compilations of a variety of record sources and family information, some of which may be unique. These compilations typically represent years of research and provide an easier starting point for genealogists to begin their research. Family histories written or compiled by Washington State authors are regularly collected. Family histories written and compiled by non-Washington State authors are collected at the discretion of Genealogy staff.
Electronic genealogical resources are selected to provide access to a broad range of unique materials, which may not otherwise be readily available to Seattle area researchers.
Accessibility[edit | edit source]
The Genealogy Collection and services are developed for the free use of Seattle residents and others who come to use our resources. It is a non-circulating reference collection available for use in the Central Library; however, genealogy handbooks, guides, and resources relating to social and historical context are also available in the circulating collection. Genealogy Staff and Reference Services Staff are available to assist patrons with the use of these materials.
Materials in the collection are accessible through the library’s catalog and are indexed in a variety of print sources and online databases, including but not limited to the American-Genealogical Biographical Index, Munsell’s Index to American Genealogies, and the Periodical Source Index.
The Seattle Public Library was one of 24 libraries with genealogy collections selected for inclusion in M.J. Kaminkow’s publication A Complement to Genealogies in the Library of Congress. This gives national exposure to the Library’s holdings of family histories prior to 1980.
In-house finding aids have been created to make information in the Genealogy Collection more accessible to patrons. These finding aids are:
Electronic genealogical resources are accessible via the Library’s website, which provides Internet links to genealogical websites and licensed databases. Many of these databases are available remotely with a library card and four-digit PIN.
Digital Projects are undertaken to promote and preserve collections and make the materials available in electronic formats. These digital collections and our electronic genealogical resources are available to the public 24 hours a day so that patrons can access them at any time. Some highlights from our digital collection:
Collection Growth[edit | edit source]
Materials including print, non-print, and electronic formats are acquired within the scope of this collection statement through purchases using operating funds and gift funds (from the Seattle Public Library Foundation and from individuals and local genealogy related organizations), and through material donations.
Realia, mementos, research notes, and personal papers are not accepted for the Genealogy Collection. Donors whose offered gifts are out of scope are directed to other appropriate collections whenever possible.
Services[edit | edit source]
Reference Service[edit | edit source]
The Seattle Public Library has two experienced genealogy librarians to help library patrons both with their on-site and remote research. They are available to help with using the collection, instruction on the equipment at the library (microfilm readers and scanners/copiers), and with genealogy questions of all kinds.
We often get asked for obituary look-ups. We find many obituaries using subscription databases and online sources, and we're happy to search these for anyone who asks. Unfortunately, Seattle obituaries from about 1985 to 2003 are often only available on microfilm, and we're only able to conduct microfilm searches for Seattle Public Library cardholders.
We have two databases to access many Seattle obituaries through - Seattle Times Historical Archives (STHA) and America's GenealogyBank. Both of these can be accessed remotely with a Seattle Public Library card and PIN. STHA is the digitized Seattle Times (1895-1984) and America's GenealogyBank includes the following time frame for both papers for obituaries:
The Genealogy Collection is not a circulating collection. We are happy to look-ups in our print collection and able to scan a small number numbers of pages to send over email or physical mail. We do have a small number of materials that we are able to loan out through Interlibrary Loan; but we can often save you the trouble and cost of that service by doing a scan or copy for free.
For genealogy assistance, please contact us by email through the library’s email web form: https://www.spl.org/using-the-library/ask-us
Classes and tours[edit | edit source]
We offer tours of the Central Library’s genealogy section, collection and services. Each tour offers an overview of the collection and ways to search the online catalog and other resources. Ready for a deep dive? You can take free classes on Genealogy: Getting Started which provides an overview and examples to guide you in beginning family history research, or Genealogy: Databases and the Internet, which teaches how to use our online resources. Search our event calendar for upcoming genealogy classes.
For tours, please contact us by email through the library’s email web form: https://www.spl.org/using-the-library/ask-us
History[edit | edit source]
The Genealogy Collection at the Seattle Public Library began 1926. The Seattle Genealogical Society (founded in 1923), was seeking a location for the materials that they were collecting. Local lineage organizations soon joined the Society and Library in the efforts to develop the Genealogy Collection.
In 1952, an agreement was reached between the Washington State Library and the Seattle Public Library resulting in the Seattle Public Library being designated as the State’s major resource library for the subject area of genealogy. The fact that the staff included a librarian, Carol Lind, who was knowledgeable about genealogy research, was a factor in this decision. Subsequently, the Washington State Library’s Genealogy Collection was transferred to the Seattle Public Library. A quick note about Carol Lind; she joined the Seattle Public Library’s Reference Department as a Reference Department Librarian in 1949 and was given the responsibility for working with the existing Genealogy Collection and providing service to the genealogists.
Plans for a new central library in the late 1950s divided the collections into subject departments. The Genealogy Section became a subdivision of the History Department. Carol Lind became Seattle Public Library’s first Genealogy Librarian when the new building opened in 1960. During the 1960s a para-professional assistant was added to the Genealogy staff to assist in providing services to the growing community of genealogy researchers.
Carol Lind’s expertise in genealogy was well known throughout the state. Thus, she was in demand as a speaker for genealogy programs. Whenever the opportunity arose she advocated for the Genealogy Collection of the Seattle Public Library. Carol Lind retired in May 1971, but her interest and support of the Library’s Genealogy Collection continued for many more years.
Darlene Hamilton joined the Seattle Public Library staff in April 1971 as the successor to Carol Lind,who was retiring in May 1971. Interest in genealogy research, which had been increasing since the 1960s, exploded following the 1976 Bicentennial Celebration and the televising of Alex Haley’s story, Roots, in 1977. The Seattle Public Library’s Genealogy Collection and the expertise of the two Genealogy staff members were in high demand. Most of the smaller libraries in the State were not prepared to meet the increased demand for assistance with genealogy research.
Subsequently, the Seattle Public Library submitted proposals to the Washington State Library in the late 1970s for three Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA) grant projects, which would strengthen the Seattle Public Library’s Genealogy Collection and provide training and support to other libraries in the State. Darlene Hamilton administered these projects, which included selecting additional materials for the Genealogy Collection, preparing various bibliographies to be distributed to other libraries in the State, and presenting a four-hour training workshop for librarians in various locations throughout the State. This workshop was revised and presented again in 1991 for the Washington Library Association. In addition, Darlene presented programs to genealogy groups throughout the State.
Darlene Hamilton developed classes and tours in the early 1980s in response to the continuing strong interest in genealogy research. Topics included beginning genealogy research, using the Internet and orientation to the Genealogy Collection.
Access to the Internet and online databases was added to the resources that the Seattle Public Library offered to the genealogy community. A Genealogy Librarian, John LaMont, filled the second part-time Genealogy staff position in 1999 in order to meet the increasing demand for genealogy assistance and access to electronic resources.
In 1998 the City of Seattle passed a bond measure that provided for the replacement of the Central Library building. The new building, which provides open stacks for most of the collections, known as the Books Spiral, opened in the spring of 2004. Darlene Hamilton was involved in the building program planning as it relates to the Genealogy Collection and reorganizing of that Collection in preparation for the move into this new facility. The opportunity to provide better access to the growing Collection in a new facility will fulfill one of Darlene’s dreams for the Genealogy Collection of the Seattle Public Library.
Today, the Genealogy Collection is part of the library’s Special Collections department which includes the Seattle Room. Today, there are two full-time Genealogy Librarians at the Seattle Public Library, John LaMont and Mahina Oshie (who joined the department in 2011).
Tips for Your Visit[edit | edit source]
Doing Research[edit | edit source]
The Space[edit | edit source]
Getting here[edit | edit source]
The Central Library occupies an entire city block with entrances on 4th Ave (Level 1) and 5th Ave (Level 3). Paid parking is available in our underground parking garage.
Groups[edit | edit source]
We have many societies, clubs, and groups of friends come to the library to spend time researching with the collection. You are very welcome to bring your group in to tour and use the collection. We are always happy to give a tour or orientation to your group. Please contact us ahead of time if you would like to schedule a tour or orientation. Please contact us by email through the library’s email web form: https://www.spl.org/using-the-library/ask-us. You can also reach us by phone during our desk hours (see above section) at 206-386-4636, ask for Genealogy.
Other Western Washington Resources[edit | edit source]