Seeing an Old Friend

One of the assignments for the National Genealogical Society’s Home Study Course is a survey of local history/genealogical resources at your public library, with a specific list of topics to cover. At first glance, it seemed pro forma but, as with…

One of the assignments for the National Genealogical Society’s Home Study Course is a survey of local history/genealogical resources at your public library, with a specific list of topics to cover. At first glance, it seemed pro forma but, as with previous assignments, the fresh look proved invigorating.  It didn’t hurt that Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore is my public library – not a bit!

Enoch Pratt Free Library
400 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21201
The Maryland Department of the Enoch Pratt Central Branch in downtown Baltimore is a State Library Resource Center and serves as a local history room for all 24 subdivisions.  The materials are all non-circulating. The department is located on the second floor of a new annex and is beautifully furnished, brightly lit, and very comfortable.

Here’s a virtual tour:

The department maintains a genealogically helpful webpage as part of the library’s website:

The Periodicals Room, located on the first floor of the Central Branch, is of equal significance to genealogical research.  It maintains its own page for genealogical researchers:

Details of holdings are below.

Published Materials

According to its webpage, the Maryland Department has several hundred published family histories but does not actively collect them.  The Maryland Historical Society, four blocks north, has a larger collection.

The volume that I examined was donated to the library by its author. It was a typescript, self-published volume, comprised primarily of charts.  There were general lists of probate and land record citations in some sections but none of the narrative was footnoted.  Corrections were inserted in the front leaf after it was assembled.   

The library staff has assembled a helpful (but still selective) list of its local histories here:

I’ve listed two volumes of particular interest to me in the bibliography below.

The Maryland Genealogical Society Journal, formerly the Maryland Genealogical Society Bulletin, is on the shelves in the Maryland Department.  It almost goes without saying that its geographical focus is Maryland.  Methodological articles are now included, as well as a technology column. Each issue has an index. In the issue that just arrived in the mail, a place name index has been added on a trial basis.  As of 2008, when the publication was renamed, queries are published in the organizational newsletter.  Queries back to 2002 are available at the Society’s website, as are past Table of Contents from both publications.

The Pratt has an extensive collection of early state newspapers on microfilm.  One significant one is the Baltimore American; the Pratt holds the issues from 1883 to 1928.  It has such a complicated publication history that librarians have posted this helpful road map over the microfilm cabinets:


 Special Collections

The library does have a special collections department; I visited about ten years ago when working on a research guide on Charles Benedict Calvert.  It is open by appointment only, which is not unusual, but its existence and holdings are not prominently advertised.  The webpage for this department is listed under “Locations” rather than by the type of material. I’m more used to seeing a link to Special Collections – and preferably at a high level!  I searched the term “manuscripts” on the site to locate the page.

The webpage lists sixteen named manuscript collections and thirteen organization archives.  The list links to PDF finding aid files, so you have to click on each file to discover the contextual information.  In terms of the named collections, other than Edgar Allan Poe and Lizette Woodworth Reese, the names are not familiar to me, so exploring the holdings will take a bit of time and note-taking.  It’s less than user friendly.  Even a sentence or two identifying the individuals would be helpful.


Enoch Pratt’s catalog is solely online and is linked to  The catalog has many excellent functions, including hold requests and renewal of materials.

By the way, they’ve turned old card catalogs into very neat three-dimensional plaques – each drawer has the name of a (major) donor.


The Maryland Room has one photocopier and three microfilm readers.  The Periodicals Room has eight microfilm readers and five microfilm readers/scanners, similar to those at the National Archives. Nice addition!

Online Databases

The following databases are available in the library:

·         African American History and  Culture

·         America’s Obituaries and Death Notices

·         Ancestry Library Edition

·         Biography and Master Genealogy Index

·         Digital Sanborn Maps Maryland

·         Heritage Quest (including PERSI)

·         History Reference Center

·         Baltimore Afro-American – Historical  Newspapers (1893-1988)

·         Baltimore Sun (1837-1985); articles in PDF form

·         Baltimore Sun Historical Archive (1837-1901); full page images

·         Historical Newspapers (including Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Washington Post)

Of that impressive list, Ancestry Library Edition is the only one NOT available to library patrons from home with their library card.

Interlibrary Loan

The library participates in interlibrary loan.  There are three phases to acquiring materials not at the Central Library.  You can submit a request from the catalog to have an item at any branch delivered to your branch.  If the book is not held by the Pratt, you can search Marina, a Maryland-wide virtual catalog, again requesting delivery to your own branch.  If the item is not found in-state, Pratt librarians will submit an ILL request for you.

The Pratt does not lend its microfilmed newspapers to other libraries. However, they will look up articles for patrons, and send them directly.  The guidelines for genealogy reference research requests are published here:

For the record, I asked this question both in person and by email.  The email was answered on the next weekday that the library was open.

Special Resources

The Maryland Room has an excellent selection of published derivatives of all types. It also has photographs, maps, local school yearbooks, and telephone directories.  Its most unique features are its biographical and query card files and related vertical files that include a wide variety of clippings and pamphlet-type materials organized alphabetically.  There are folders for specific subjects, organizations (including churches), neighborhoods, corporations, and prominent families. It’s hard to break away from the vertical files once you get in there!

The stacks are partially browse-able and there is always something to discover.  On this survey visit, I encountered a new (to me) typescript three-volume diary entitled The Diary of Richard H. Townsend, compiled 1851-1879, Containing Historical, Biographical and Genealogical Information for 1683-1879.  Full title is below.  It was transcribed by the Works Progress Administration in 1937, and indexed by one of Mr. Townsend’s descendants.  The index alone is several hundred pages. The diarist reflected on local and national events as well as extended family milestones.   He was a Quaker and his detailed entries included information about the Society of Friends community up and down the Eastern seaboard.  If my parking meter hadn’t been about to run out, I would have read it cover-to-cover.

Last but not least, the knowledgeable and dedicated staff at Enoch Pratt remains one of its best assets.  Their expertise is priceless.  I am fortunate to be so close.

Bibliography of Library Survey/Visit

Boyd, T. H. S.  History of  Montgomery County from its Earliest  Settlement in 1650 to 1879.  1879. Reprint, Baltimore: Regional Publishing Company, 1968.

Maryland Genealogical Society Journal (formerly Maryland Genealogical Society Bulletin) 1– (1960– ). Baltimore: Maryland Genealogical Society.

Scharf, J.Thomas. History of Baltimore city and County. 2 volumes. 1881. Reprint, Baltimore: Regional Publishing Company, 1971.

Townsend, Richard Hallett. The Diary of Richard H. Townsend, compiled 1851-1879, Containing Historical, Biographical and Genealogical Information for 1683-1879 with and index by John Shotwell Townsend; from the original manuscript in the possession of Mr. John S. Townsend, transcribed by the Works Progress Administration of Maryland at the Enoch Pratt Free Library. 3 volumes. Baltimore: Works Progress Administration of Maryland at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, 1937.




One thought on “Seeing an Old Friend”

  1. <font color=’black’ size=’3′ face=’Tahoma, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif’> <div>Good morning!</div> <div><br> </div> Thank you. &nbsp;You are really making headway in the research areas. &nbsp;Can’t wait to meet and hear all about it. <div><br> </div> <div>Mary<br> <br> <br> <div style="font-family:arial,helvetica;font-size:10pt;color:black"></div></div>

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