28    Nov 20070 comments

Chicago: A new resource helps researchers

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Do you have ancestors who lived in Chicago, Illinois?

If so, the Newberry Library has a new resource to make research easier.

Click to go to newberry.org

Opened in 1887, The Newberry Library, a renowned humanities research and reference institution,houses a world-class collection of books, manuscripts, maps, music, and other printed materials related to the history and culture of Western Europe and the Americas and spanning many centuries. Holdings include medieval manuscripts and early maps, as well as extensive genealogical resources. Among its collections are some 1.5 million books, 5 million manuscript pages and 500,000 historic maps.

A new interactive, map based site has been announced to help family history researchers and Chicago historians. ChicagoAncestors.org was developed by the staff of the library's Local and Family History department.

According to the library, the online map makes searching and sharing historical information easier.

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"There is a huge amount of local historical information about Chicago in books and on the Internet," said Jack Simpson, co-director of the project and curator of local and family history at the Newberry Library. "We're trying to help researchers find that data by allowing them to search by proximity of a particular address or intersection."

A look at the site shows that data includes everything from historicchurch locations, neighborhood bibliographies and historic homicides, as well as many Internet resource links, including historical photos of the city.

Visitors can research the history of a Chicago address and identify relevant Library ersources, as well as educational institutions and houses of worship. You might learn where your great-grandfather went to school, or what church or synagogue your ancestors attended.

Researchers can also create a saved profile, and share their research and knowledge with relatives and other researchers of the same neighborhoods or names. And, by registering, users can add comments to points on the map or even map their own historical and genealogical information, such as tracing the various places your ancestors lived and worked in the city.

Ginger Frere, project co-director and reference librarian, says that "researchers are now contributing their own information about schools, churches and other institutions."

Interest in maps and online mapping is growing among researchers as an example of how technology is providing new tools.

I wish I had Chicago-based ancestors so it would help in my own research. Perhaps the success of the Newberry website will encourage other institutions in other cities to create similar projects.

In fact, the website's technical design was created by the Chicago Technology Cooperative, which built it on open-source software, thereby "creating a template for use by other communities for local historical mapping."

The Newberry collections are often the focus of exhibits, music and theater programs, as well as classes, lectures and other activities. If you live in or will be visiting the Chicago area, do spend some time there. See the website for address and calendar of events.

Have you visited the Newberry Library and used their resources?

Let me know - I look forward to reading your comments and questions.

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