Archibald S. Alexander Library
I’ve re-acquainted myself with the library at Rutgers, and in particular the Special Collections. But before I get to the Special Collections lets talk about what is of genealogical interest in the greater library, and the basics (location, hours etc).
The Library’s website is:
169 College Ave New Brunswick NJ
Hours – varies check the main website
The Special collections room has limited hours, different than the overall library.
During the week there is very limited metered parking. I believe you can get a permit for parking in the deck next to the library, but I have personally never done it. Parking on the weekend never seems to be too much of an issue, just make sure you park where you are permitted.
The Federal Census (NJ Only), the New Jersey State Census, and Periodicals (newspapers) on Microfilm are all available during regular library hours. Federal Census are available indexed on-line at commercial websites such as Ancestry.com. Having used the both formats if you can handle it in your budget Ancestry is well worth the price. As of this writing Ancestry has the 1895 New Jersey state Census online (as a substitute for the missing federal 1890) but that is all. Refer to the library holding guide given later in the article for the full extent of microforms available. Educate yourself in advance, when I went today the student put in charge of the microforms really had no idea of where anything was and just kept telling patrons I don’t know. The state census is in the very back of the film room, the last row. There is a guide stuck to a cabinet that gives the tape numbers for specific years (but not on the cabinet they are lodged, you need to hunt for that a bit). There is also the online catalog as well.
This is a good point to introduce the copycard. There are no coin-operated copy machines at Rutgers, you must purchase a copycard in advance. The copy center is on the lower level between special collections and microforms. Bring dollars, coins or smaller denominations such as $5’s. On Saturday it is entirely self-service $1 to buy a card and load up as needed. Currently as of this writing a microform copy is $ 0.20.
Always check the main website for the Special Collections hours. There is limited coverage during school break, and currently open 9-5 during the week and 1-5 Saturdays. I wouldn’t be shocked if at some point Saturday hours are cut out due to budget restrictions, so I can’t stress enough, check the hours before you head out.
What is housed in the special collections?
Here is a good guide overall guide of what is available where:
From a genealogists perspective first and foremost it is the repository for theGenealogical Society of New Jersey, and the repository of State DAR publications. There is also the standard fare of books found in many local history sections of libraries (immigration, indexes of state archives, extensive published family genealogies).
I have used the GSNJ bible records quite a bit (most are bound and on open stacks), cemetery records, and the DAR local compilations are really invaluable (church records, town records etc). Much is open stack but there are holdings that are considered closed stack. To get to specific “vertical files/boxes” in closed stack you will usually need to give a call slip to a librarian. The librarian will request that you complete a form promising to adhere to the library standards, and will bring up your request. Depending on the fragility of the item you might be given a book wedge or even gloves. Most items can not be photocopied, so transcribing will be a necessity. Use the finding aids on-line or in red notebooks on the back table, to help you determine if something is closed stack, and how to fill out a call slip.
Your first trip to the library. Walk in the front door, and go left through the glass doors to the reference section. Proceed down the steps to the basement (you can’t miss them). Go through the glass doors to the special collections, there will be a sign-in book on the counter. Usually a librarian will ask you to complete a form identifying you and your purposes – this is only done on your first trip. Take a token go back out the doors and go through the coat room door on the left. Secure your coat, and non-personal items in a locker. Keep your wallet with you. Don’t bring any large satchels or pens into the library, they aren’t permitted (standard practice on most libraries/collections of this nature).
The people working the library are EXPERTS in their particular field and employees of the college not GSNJ or DAR. They are not there to conduct your research for you, but they are more than happy to assist you in advice on manuscripts for a time period, or records they hold. I have found the staff at Rutgers to be the absolute friendliest and helpful of all professionals historians and archivists that I have ever met. I haven’t asked much of them, but I am an observer and I can tell you they are always professional, and polite. Usually they will give you a tour of the holdings on your first visit, and sometimes will come over and check on you to see how you are doing. Historians are not always the biggest fans of us genealogy buffs, and sadly in some cases for good reason. There is some pretty shoddy research out there that is published that is all wrong.
The shoddy research brings me to the next important point. Much of the holdings in this library is not considered primary evidence. You can’t pick up a DAR lineage book and assume that Nehemiah DAY patriot is your ancestor because a member in 1938 had him listed as such. You still have to prove it. Even though some nice woman in 1990 went to a cemetery and volunteered to catalog the headstones doesn’t mean she bothered with all of them, perhaps she was only interested in 3 families, and generally ignored the rest. These two comments are based upon my own personal experience if you can’t tell. That’s not to say the data in this collection is all incorrect, most is spot on, but you still need to do your own legwork.
I have been going to Alexander library off and on for about 15 years, and still have only touched the tip of the iceberg on my research. It’s well worth the visit, but can be overwhelming at first. I would suggest the first time your goal to be getting the lay of the land , and then go from there.