Are you ready to get out of the house and do some research? I am and so I decided to make this a research summer. Fully vaccinated and with a stack of masks, I headed out on a road trip to see what I could learn about my ancestors.
My first stop was the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research in Houston, Texas. The Clayton began in the former home of William Lockhart Clayton and his family. Today its collections have expanded and reside in that home and a main building on the property.
What does the Clayton have and why should you care if you’re not doing Texas research? Librarian Sue Kaufman, Clayton Library Senior Manager explains “Visiting the Clayton Library is a great place to springboard your research. Our international collection of materials includes books from all over the United States and beyond. You will find answers to your research at Clayton in our geographic collection, our published collection, or with our expert staff.”
Like most genealogical libraries, Clayton is not restricted to materials only about the area it serves (Clayton is a branch of the Houston Public Library system). Clayton curates a national and international collection. Its onsite collections of books and microforms include all 50 states and various countries. This collection consists of
- 100,000 books
- 3,000 periodical titles
- 70,000 reels of microfilm (from National Archives and FamilySearch).
They also have a digital collection that can be explored either from the Houston Public Library Digital Archives website or partially via the FamilySearch Digital Library. One highlight of that digital collection is the city of Houston death certificates from 1874 to 1900.
The library’s main building has two floors. On the first floor you will find U.S. and International book collections as well as computers to access various subscription websites, the library digital collection, and catalog. One the second floor you will find the library’s collection of family history books which includes a finding aid for the microfilm collection.
Online databases available at the Clayton include:
- 19th Century US Newspaper Digital Archive
- African American Heritage
- Genealogy Connect
- Heritage Connect
For those with Texas roots, Texas specific databases can also be accessed. You can view the entire list of databases available through Houston Public Library online. Many of these additional databases are genealogically relevant but are not “genealogy websites” including the American Civil War Research Database and the Dallas Morning News Historical Archive. Probably the best kept secret is while the Houston Public Library My Link library card is free, non-residents can apply for one by paying a $40 yearly membership. Why would you do this? Remote access to many (not all) of the subscription websites available from Houston Public Library. To learn more, see their MyLink card web page.
In addition to everything that can be found in the main building, the original library, the Clayton houses a city directory collection and more microfilm.
Prior to traveling to the Clayton, I recommend that you peruse the online catalog to find what is of interest to your research. The online card catalog is found on the Houston Public Library website. Once you conduct a search, you can limit your results to the Clayton. This search includes all of Houston Public Library’s branches so to avoid frustration, limit your result’s list.
Don’t forget to email the librarians for specific questions about the collection. A great way to plan your trip and make the most of your research time is to connect with a librarian and ask questions and get suggestions for your research. An introduction to the Clayton presented by Sue Kaufman in 2019 can be found on the BYU Family History Library website.
How was my trip to the Clayton? I had two major successes while I was there. I searched a microfilm of court records and found a lawsuit my 3rd great-grandmother lost. She was ordered to pay over $200 in the 1890s to the plaintiff. A hefty sum for a widow with young children. Now I need to keep searching to find out more about that lawsuit and what it was about. I also found a book about the city she lived in. That book was released in a limited printing and the copy originally at the Family History Library was lost years ago. Luckily for me, Clayton had a copy I could look at.
Libraries are important. Checking multiple libraries for information about your ancestor is vital. To continue my research vacation I will next stop at the newly re-opened Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. I’ll let you know what I find!