Aug 19, 2022

University Special Collections

August 19, 2022

Last week the Albany County Genealogical Society from Laramie was in town for a tour of the Special Collections at the Morgan Library at Colorado State University. They kindly invited me to tag along on their visit.


I’m glad I did. Although I don’t have any ancestral connections to Northern Colorado or CSU, the tour reminded me of the treasures available to genealogists in university special collections.


At CSU, there is a large collection of materials about Germans from Russia. It contains biographies and oral interviews of these early settlers to this area. The library also holds documents concerning the history of water allocation in Northern Colorado which includes records and photographs. Finally, the special collections at CSU contain information about the history of the university. Yearbooks and other student records are a part of this collection.


While some of the CSU collection is digitized and is available online, much of it is not. Finding aids are available to help a researcher determine what is available.


So far, nothing specific to my family has turned up in the CSU special collections. That doesn’t mean that nothing is available in other university collections. A few years ago, I was looking at the finding aids for several western university libraries. I didn’t really expect to find much since none of my ancestors attended a university or college.


I was surprised to find a reference to my unusual maiden name, Fernelius, in the finding aids for the Marriott Library at the University of Utah. Among their special collections were a series of files referencing my name.


After doing some further research, I learned that one of my father’s second cousins had been a professor at the University. Upon his death, his papers were donated to the University. Some of them dealt with his area of expertise as a professor, but a large portion of them were genealogical files he had amassed during his lifetime.


I hadn’t known that this cousin did genealogical research, but the next time I visited Salt Lake City, I made an appointment at the Marriott Library. The Fernelius files were a treasure trove of documents. They included sketches about my great grandparents that their grandchildren had written back in the 1930s and 40s. I learned about the recipes my great grandmother enjoyed making and found photos that I’d never seen before.


None of these Fernelius folks had any connection to the University of Utah. The only reason the documents were in the Marriott Library was because a distant cousin had taught there. Records about your family may be in some unlikely places. You never know what you might find.


While I didn’t find anything at the CSU library last week that applied directly to my family, it was a worthwhile reminder that university libraries can hold all sorts of treasure. They’re definitely worth looking into, whether your ancestors attended the university or not.


Carol Stetser