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Making family connections

  • Cary Chart
    Cary Chart  This genealogy chart from a notebook compiled by Wilson Miles Cary (1838-1914), the grandnephew of Thomas Jefferson. The notebook is housed in Swem’s Special Collections Research Center.  Image courtesy of Swem Special Collections Research Center
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Swem Library adds to its genealogy resources

Mary Beth Dalton is no stranger to Swem Library’s genealogy section. As a former professional genealogist, she has spent hours poring over the genealogy resources at Swem, the main library at the College of William & Mary.

One case in particular sticks out in her mind – a client asked her to look into one of his ancestors who lived in Gloucester County in the late 1700s. Immediately she turned to Swem.

“Swem is really good for Colonial and Civil War era research, so naturally I started there. I decided to look at some of the papers in the library’s Special Collections Research Center – ledger books from the late 1700s.

"There, I found him,” Dalton said.

The client’s ancestor was a store owner, and his account books revealed fascinating details about his life and the world he lived in.

“His customers paid their bills with eggs and butter. There was no bank, no paper currency. It was a fascinating glimpse into how people lived, and helped us understand how society functioned during those days. This is what I love about genealogy,” she said.

Dalton works for the Center for Legal & Court Technology in William & Mary’s Law School, but she hasn’t given up her passion for genealogy. She is working on her husband’s lineage and helps others research their family trees.

“Genealogy isn’t just names and dates. What’s interesting and fun about it is the stories about people,” Dalton said. “Swem’s resources, especially the primary documents in Special Collections, can give you a glimpse into the lives of the people you are researching, adds color to the history.”

Each year over 400 professional and amateur genealogists visit Swem Library to access its resources. The library has a strong collection in local, family (primarily Southern) and Virginia history through the 19th century, and houses the Mary and Dennis Rebman Virginia Genealogy Resource Center on its first floor. In addition, Swem recently purchased a subscription to, a popular online resource that provides access to historical documents and photos, local narratives, oral histories, indexes and other resources that span from the 1500s to the 2000s.

“We are very excited to be able to provide access to Genealogical information has become increasingly important for researchers in history, American studies, and other fields. This new resource will not only benefit our students and faculty members, but community patrons who visit Swem to access our genealogical resources,” said Don Welsh, head of research at Swem Library.

William & Mary students, faculty and staff can access on campus and off campus using their William & Mary user ID. Community members can access the resource by visiting Swem Library; off-campus access is not available to non-William & Mary users.

As Dalton has discovered, Swem’s Special Collections Research Center also has numerous collections that contain genealogical research or other information that can be helpful to genealogists. One such collection is the Tyree Collection (1960-70), which includes more than 600 notebooks of research compiled by Young Tyree based largely on Virginia county records.

“Business records such as account books, ledgers and daybooks can be helpful to genealogists in revealing information about people's everyday lives and in providing proof that someone was in a particular place at a particular time,” said Welsh.

Another one of “Swem’s treasures,” as Dalton describes it, is the Virginia Historical Index, a catalog of Virginia journals and published records created by librarian and Virginia historian Earl Gregg Swem – the library’s namesake.

“The Virginia Historical Index indexes names, locations and subjects. It’s the best resource for searching Virginia periodicals. It can help you find a needle in a haystack,” Dalton said.