15 April 2014

The Society of the Cincinnati Library -- a hidden gem near Dupont Circle in DC

Copyright 2014, Diane L Richard

I spent a delightful Friday the other week visiting Anderson House, the home of The Society of the Cincinnati and its library.  I was there to research the pre-1810 records of one of the constituent societies.  The archivist, Valerie Sallis, was incredibly helpful and made sure that I exhausted every conceivable record and book for my research. 

What I didn’t learn until I was there is that the library is open to the public.  Though its value is clearly weighted toward those researching the Revolutionary War time period, many holdings also contain the names of those who served.  Additionally, when I returned home and decided to write this post, I learned via the website of some neat digitized resources.  In the words of The Society of the Cincinnati ...

The Society of the Cincinnati library collects, preserves, and makes available for research printed and manuscript materials relating to the military and naval history of the eighteenth century, with a particular concentration on the people and events of the American Revolution. The Robert Charles Lawrence Fergusson Collection specializes in works relating to the art of war in the period, providing context for the achievement of the volunteer American forces and their French allies in securing the independence of the United States. Complementing the library's extensive rare book collection are historical manuscripts, maps, graphic arts, and the archives of the Society of the Cincinnati. In addition, a modern reference collection supports research on the American revolutionary period and the history of the Society of the Cincinnati and its members; and a collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century children's literature and fiction reveal popular perceptions of the American Revolution through time. The library also houses books, manuscripts, photographs, and other documentary materials relating to Larz and Isabel Anderson.

The Society's library is not primarily a genealogical library and does not generally collect works on family history and lineage. However, through its collecting focus on the Revolutionary War there may occasionally be modern or rare resources documenting a particular individual's military career or Society membership. Applications for membership in the Society are strictly handled through the fourteen constituent societies that make up the General Society, and any membership records held onsite are closed to research without prior approval from the constituent society to whom those records belong.

The library is open to the public by appointment Monday through Friday from 10:00 am - 4:00 pm. The library is located on the lower floor of Anderson House, the Society's headquarters located in Washington, D.C. Readers are required to register and show photo identification in order to access the collections. The library makes photocopies and scans of materials on a case-by-case basis as conditions of the material allow. Readers are also allowed to take their own photographs for personal research use, provided they are not published online or in-print without our permission. The library catalog and finding aid for the Society archives are available for searching online through our website. As well, selected rare works from the collections--including several manuscript orderly books from the Continental Army-- have been digitized and are available for online reading or download. The library is happy to answer questions about the collections from off-site researchers and schedule appointments for on-site use by email at [email protected], or over the phone at 202-785-2040 ext. 411.

When you contact the library via e-mail and/or when you show up for your scheduled appointment, the reading room regulations will be shared with you.

Even if you don't want or need to do research at the library, the museum is open and free to visit, 1-4 PM, Tuesday-Saturday.  Tours are also available, for individuals or groups. Additionally, many public programs are offered.  Most are free to attend and include concerts, informal talks, author talks, lectures, day trips and more.

If you cannot visit the house in person, do check out the virtual tour (then and now -- at the bottom of this page) of select areas of the house.

Though I didn’t find the “smoking gun” that I had hoped for, I did learn more about the person I was researching and in our world, when you are researching someone who served in the Revolutionary War, any information is valuable. I also got to see a glimpse of a gorgeous historical building.  

Have you found the library/archive of another lineage society especially invaluable?

Editor’s Notes:  A recent Upfront with NGS post about visiting archives and using manuscript collection, Are you using manuscript collections for your genealogy research? If not, the gems you might be missing!!

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