25    Jul 20092 comments

University archives contain family treasures

To a family history researcher, any archive may be a goldmine, providing information on relatives not found easily elsewhere. For those whose families have a connection to a specific organization or educational institution, the archives may hold exciting family information.

Even better is that many archives are now digitizing their holdings and making them accessible online.

As just one example, there is Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Maryland, US), which has now made its Alan M. Chesney Medical Archives accessible to anyone around the globe.

Chesney was dean (1929-1953) of the School of Medicine. While he was researching his history of the medical school and hospital, he found many documents which he used to write a three-volume work. Following this, he began pushing for an archival program.

Thanks to his efforts, this archive has, for 30 years, been the historical location for preserving photos, films, documents, personal papers and objects connected with the Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Schools of Medicine, Nursing and Public Health. It has preserved these materials and made them available to researchers.

Here's a photo of the 1897 graduating class - the one female member of the class is absent.


In addition to documents and some 400,000 photos (including thousands of portraits), there are more than 10,000 items in the Material Culture Collections, which include decorative and fine arts, medical illustrations and equipment and memorabilia, such as an early defibrillator. There are also more than 500 collections of personal papers of alumni, faculty and administrators.

The entire catalog will be online, including a large part of its photo collection, biographical and historical information and will also feature online exhibits. The archives staff will also be available through a service which will permit visitors to ask general questions, request assistance or permission to use materials.

Among written documents is a letter from Florence Nightingale, dated February 25, 1893 to Isabel Hampton Robb, who headed the Johns Hopkins Hospital Training School for Nurses (1889-1894).

These archives hold more than 18,000 biographical files, some dating to the late 19th-century:

The biographical files primarily include curricula vitae, press clippings, obituaries, and other documents relating to the professional contributions individuals associated with the Johns Hopkins Hospital and/or the medical divisions of the Johns Hopkins University (School of Public Health, School of Medicine, and School of Nursing.)

The files include retired or deceased faculty, staff, and alumni, individuals with current appppointments as well as individuals who have terminated their Hopkins affiliation but are still active within their profession.

In general, the content of these files is somewhat uneven in terms of quantity, and in some cases, quality of information; folders may have inclusive biographical information including curricula vita, bibliographies, biographical sketches, obituaries, and press clippings while others may contain only a scant press clipping or two. Overall the collection is a useful resource for obtaining basic biographical information. The dates of materials in these files range from the late nineteenth century to the present.

A related resource for educational institutions are alumni magazines. Johns Hopkins' publication is always fascinating. We've received this for years because our daughter went to a Hopkins' sponsored summer program in junior high and senior high school and was therefore considered an alumni. Each issue holds interesting stories on research at the university, books published by staff, news items, class notes and much more.

Class notes are a good source of information if you are looking for relatives who graduated at any point. Notes include changes of residence; news of marriage, birth and death; professional updates and more.

A call to a university alumni office about an ancestor may provide information difficult to find.

Over the years, I've contacted various alumni associations for information on deceased relatives and generally received prompt responses. Information has included copies of original applications, place of birth information, photographs, yearbook copies and other interesting and valuable bits of information.

Have you investigated an ancestor with a connection to a school or university? Have you contacted the alumni office for more information? I'm always interested in learning about readers' experiences with different resources, so do let me know.

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Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Cool site, love the info. I do a lot of research online on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I'm glad I found your blog. Thanks, :)

  2. Hi, thank you for this fantastic article, a really great opening for the new year, keep up the excellent work, Sue.

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