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The Theodore M. Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame by Carol Collins

A research trip to the Hesburgh Library, as with any university library, should be savored like a good wine. Each floor should be “sipped” rather than devoured — this is the way to search out the gems hidden in the collection.

University libraries do not have a genealogy section. But they do have extensive holdings in history, religion, sociology, political science — all of which translate into wonderful genealogical material. We may even find family histories on the shelves. But they won’t be cataloged in an area by themselves.

The catalogs of the Hesburgh library holdings are in three divisions. There are two card catalogs – one is “author/title,” the other “subject.” No acquisitions later than October 22, 1987, are in the card catalogs; 95 percent of library holdings are on the computer catalog, which is accessible from your computer at home (

The bank of computers on the left as you enter the main reading room is open to the public. (A computer catalog is also on every floor.) The card files are in wooden cases on your right. Photocopying machines (10¢ or vendor card — available at the entrance) are on the first and second floors. Books need not be returned to the tenth, or whatever, floor after copying. The first floor contains the reference department, the place to find atlases, gazetteers, the “Biography and Genealogy Master Index,” government documents, and help from the reference desk. Here is where you also find background material and/or addresses for further research.

To the left of the reference desk in the main library is the microtext reading room. Here one finds microfilmed books, periodicals, newspapers, census data (social, not personal), etc. Also to the left, but outside the microtext room, is the U.S. Geographical Survey topographic maps and the Defense mapping agency maps of Europe. Periodicals and the newspaper collection are on the west side of the first floor. The “research tower” (second through thirteen floors) is our next stop. Note that on each floor, usually in the southeast corner, is a section of “reshelving” shelves. If the books you want aren’t at their assigned place, check the reshelving sections.

Army and Navy National Guard registers, Adjutant General Reports of the Civil War soldiers for Indiana and Illinois and the American Genealogical Index are some of the gems of the fourth floor. The fifth floor contains the Directory of Medical Specialists and other medical information. The emphasis of the eighth floor is language and literature. Foreign language dictionaries not kept in the first floor Reference department will be found here. If your ancestors were in the newspaper or publishing world, the “Editor and Publisher,” a publication expressly devoted to newspapermen, may provide obits, migratory patterns, etc. The bound periodical runs from 1913-1979.

The tenth floor, where most of us should begin our delving, is the American History floor. Books are arranged alphabetically by section of country: New England, Middle Atlantic states, the South, Midwest, etc. If browsing doesn’t turn up the state desired, find the call number of any book about that state in the computer catalog and the rest will be around it. The Pennsylvania Archives, the Maryland Archives, a complete run of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register (plus indexes), Swem’s Index to Virginia Genealogies (and the sources it indexes) are some of the gems on this floor. One could spend a week here happily.

The eleventh floor is a haven for researchers overseas. Surtsey Society Publications (which contain some English parish record extracts, wills, etc.), Victoria History of the various English counties, 17th century atlases of German states, heraldry, family histories are just some of the gems here. Religion — and not just Catholic — philosophy, esthetics and ethics are the focus of the twelfth floor.

The “Annual Catholic Directory, ” a listing of this country’s churches, priests, schools, cemeteries, etc., begins in 1823. If you have any priests in your family, you’ll find them here. Areas of special academic interest at Notre Dame will also interest genealogists. Irish Studies offers an intense search of Irish history. Note Dame hosts one of only two Medieval Institutes in this hemisphere (the other is in Montreal). Theology includes the history of Catholicity in the country and the immediate area. Government Documents Center — material will be found on the first floor. Thus there are several special sections of the library that bear a special look: On the first floor, at the west entrance to the main concourse, is the Special Collections room. Holdings, being rare and irreplaceable, are closed shelf and one must sign in. But if you’re looking for Scottish history and genealogy, this is the place to come. They have other materials, of course; I’ve just reveled in the Scottish material.

The Notre Dame Archives, on the sixth floor, contain more special collections. The older records of Notre Dame students and faculty are being computerized for quick retrieval. There is a large collection of Catholic Kentucky records. Local History emphasizes Kentucky, Indiana and the Ohio River Valley. The early records of the Potawatomi Indians of the area will be found here, as well as letters to and from early priests in the area. The Medieval Institute is on the seventh floor. This is a superb collection of European university histories, student registers, biographical registers of students, etc. One other library, the Law Library, located in the Law building (east of the circle on Notre Dame Avenue), has its own collection and is open to the public. There are normally well informed, gracious students there to help those of us who are truly lost. The online catalogue of the Hesburgh Library is being changed on January 4 to a much easier, user-friendly format.

Library hours can vary. It is recommended that researchers not visit the library during final exams because at that point students are even sitting on the floor studying. But that’s just two weeks out of the year. Parking can be a problem. The two visitor lots are not convenient to the library. The closest visitor lot is at the northeast corner of the lot bordering Juniper and Bulla. Entrance is off Bulla Rd. The other lot is just south of the Hesburgh Center for International Studies on Notre Dame Ave.

The Notre Dame Transpo bus stops at the door; this perhaps might be a better option for an extended stay. The Huddle, the South Dining Hall, Greenfields (in the Hesburgh Center for International Studies) offer quick lunches.

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