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Roanoke Library’s “Virginia Room” is a Treasure Trove

Roanoke City public libraries recently held an open house for the Virginia Room, a research center at the main branch on Jefferson Street that is used for genealogical and historical research. Whether tracking down family history or crafting a book about some portion of the Commonwealth’s history, the Virginia Room is often a treasure trove of information.

Details regarding where people immigrated from, the background on historic houses and early fire insurance maps (also called Sanborn maps) often provide valuable information, both in books and data-based formats.  Archivist Alicia Sell calls the Sanborn maps, which go back to the 1880’s, a “wonderful resource. It shows …a footprint of every single house.”

Even the materials homes were built from are listed; maps marked with an “S,” for stable, evolved into an “A,” for automobile, as the 1800’s became the 1900’s.

Brochures, “used to show how wonderful Roanoke was,” said Sell, also provided photographic evidence of structures in Roanoke and are useful now for those restoring structures.  Published family histories and “pedigree charts,” filled out by patrons, are also on file. Professional genealogists have donated their resources on local families.

“Check [your facts] in at least three places,” Sell advises.

“[It’s] the best research library west of Richmond for family history,” said Virginia Room librarian Laura Wickstead. “For the whole state of Virginia, we have an outstanding collection for looking up your ancestors.”

Wickstead said a growing resource collection allows more research into other states, as does a growing array of online databases.

Concerning family research, Wickstead advises, “Start with the U.S. Census.”

The Virginia Room (at the main branch on Jefferson St.) has grown rapidly since its inception in the 1960’s, and now welcomes visitors from around the country.

“We are very proud of our collection,” said Sell.

All of the resources are available for free on site, except for photocopying, and the staff will do research for no charge.

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