University Libraries – underused and overlooked?

There is a first time for everything right!? I recently contacted a University archive for the first time, namely The Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The archive houses papers that pertain to the American Missionary Association, but also works of art, photography and scholarly papers that document African American history, as well as the history of other Ethnic Minorities.

I was interested in records pertaining to the American Missionary Association, because of their preachers’ work at Camp Nelson. Two things prompted me to finally send an inquiry. A mutual blogger, Teresa Vega, commented on one of my posts mentioning Gabriel Burdett. He worked at Camp Nelson as part of the AMA and married my great-great-great-grandparents. Teresa encouraged me to contact the center, since she had received helpful information from their archives once before. I ‘sat’ on this info for a while and then I read a post about the importance of using University Libraries on Facebook by Tim Pinnick. Tim is an expert at researching African American Newspapers and lectures on Black Coalminers.

Finally, I emailed the center, explaining my interest in AMA activities and letters from Camp Nelson. I received a timely response and was given an index of men who had sent letters from that location. I chose three names from that list (Scofield, Hall and Burdett), that I recognized from reading the Freedmen’s Bureau Records and other literature. The referance archivist then looked them up and informed me that it would be at least 140 letters! He gave me a quote and I decided to go ahead and have the copies made. I spent around $80 dollars for 203 copies. I really hope to get more insight into the daily lives of my ancestors from these letters. The exchange was very friendly and the correspondance swift, although Mardi Gras delayed things a bit, but that’s New Orleans – I guess!?


This was part of the packet I received from The Amistad Research Center

I learned quite a few things from this experience…For one, blogging can really put the word out and connect you to people who can share their research experience. Also, even if you are not where the archive is, the reference archivists will most likely work with you. Lastly, there is a wealth of information in these archives that is waiting to be found! If you got the impression that accessing these types of holdings will only cost you, please read my next post about what I found for FREE!