01 September 2015

Vertical Files can be a goldmine of information -- Are you taking advantage of them?

Have you checked out the vertical files held in the community where you are doing research?

One of my earliest and best finds were tax lists for Wake County (NC) for 1810 & 1820.  These had been published in publications not readily available and copies were placed in a vertical file in what is now called the Government and Heritage Library (State Library of North Carolina).  These tax lists are important because the census doesn’t survive for this county for those years!  Copies of those copies proudly sit in my library.

This article Six genealogy secrets found in the library's vertical file gives you some insight into what you might find if you haven’t ever looked at vertical files in the course of your research.

And, vertical files aren’t limited to local libraries and archives, university libraries often also have some, such as the University of Michigan and The University of North Carolina Greensboro, as well as historical society libraries like The Filson Historical Society.  These have online indexes so that you can see what material might be available in vertical files.

Can’t get to a local repository to check out its vertical files?  First, check for an online index (as mentioned above) and then you can query about how you might gain access.  Second, a really neat trend over the last few years has been the digitization of vertical files.  Now, due to copyright and privacy issues not everything in a vertical file can be digitized and you still want to check out such efforts.

For example, here are some NC examples of vertical files which have been digitized!  
+ Government and Heritage Library Vertical Files (North Carolina Digital Collections)

Just because vertical files are low tech and often not online, does not mean you shouldn’t consider looking into them.

Every time I start a project on a new family, I check the vertical files at the Government and Heritage Library (yes, in person, even though they are digitized, because I can ) to see if there is a folder for that family.  I have found family association newsletters, copies of family bible pages, family trees, newspaper cuttings, and so much more!

What is your greatest find in a vertical file?

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