Following the Paper Trail: National Capital Region

Delaware Historical Society.

In settling the North American continent, the British established their first permanent colony in Virginia. Since then, its population has seen many migrations within and through the colony and then state. Its northern neighbors, Maryland and Delaware, welcomed more settlers based on religion. Surrounding the nation’s capital, these state historical societies have much to offer in tracing ancestors back to and within the region.

The series has taken us from northern to southern New England, and to the Mid-Atlantic. Now we take a look at the next three states down the east coast.

Delaware Historical Society

505 North Market Street, Wilmington, Del.

Open Mon., 11 a.m.–7 p.m.; Tues. & Thurs., 9 a.m.–1 p.m.; Fri., 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Free to use.

Prep Tips:
  • Search the online catalog Ask Caesar. The catalog is divided into three sections: library, archives, and object. Staff recommend searching by record type, like “personal narratives” or “diaries,” and by surname. As you find items of interest, print or save as a PDF because the links are not stable.
  • Also check the card catalog upon arrival. The cards go up to about 2004 and feature different information than the online catalog. Browse by subject headings, like “Diaries.”
  • Email with questions. Although my email did not receive a reply, the Curator of Printed Media brought over suggestions based on the email and responded to my queries in person.
Registration Process:
  • Sign in at the reference desk in the Christopher Ward Reading Room of the Research Library.
  • Upon entry at the Market Street front doors, the lockers are located to the left. Only bring notes and electronics to a table.
Requesting Items:
  • Rather than a set process for requesting items, just tell the reference staff the items to retrieve. Bring a printed/written list to avoid having to repeat yourself or write it out once onsite.
  • The archival materials are kept downstairs, so it will take a bit of time to retrieve them. The staff will distribute the materials one at a time.
  • They also have open stacks with books, including about 90% of their published genealogies.
  • The Wi-Fi password can be found on their website.
  • Photos are allowed.
  • Due to their position on a major street, a lot of outside noise is audible from the reading room. Perhaps consider ear plugs/buds.
  • Check ahead for open hours. Be aware that the historical society is open Mondays while the Delaware History Museum is not, and the museum is open Wednesday while the library is not.
  • View the historic buildings in Willingtown Square by the side entrance.


Maryland Historical Society

20 West Monument Street, Baltimore, Md.

Open Wed.–Fri., 10 a.m. –5 p.m.

Free to members; non-members: $9 for adults, $7 for seniors, $6 for students.

Prep Tips:
  • Make an appointment to visit the Special Collections Reading Room by using the

    Maryland Historical Society.

    online form. Select two dates and the duration of the visit: in the morning, afternoon, or all day. A staff member will respond to confirm date and time. Otherwise, the Main Reading Room for the general collection is available to visit during open hours.

  • Email with reference questions and requests for items to view.
  • Search the online catalog and finding aids. For tips on searching their collections, MdHS has created a collections overview and a field guide.
Registration Process:
  • Bring a current photo ID to be scanned and complete the registration form.
  • The staff member at the desk by the door confirms the appointment.
  • Pay admission at the museum store downstairs.
  • Go upstairs and across the lobby to reach the lockers next door to the reading room. The room is small, so it can be difficult to maneuver around other visitors. Keep electronics, notes, and a sweater, but all other outerwear and bags must be placed in the locker.
  • Check in at the desk just inside Special Collections to confirm appointment and receive the first item requested.
Requesting Items:
  • Submit a list of items when making the appointment or via email at least 24 hours before the visit. They will pull these items in advance.
  • Items requested onsite via call slips are pulled every hour on the hour. Up to three boxes/collections are allowed at a time.
  • Once finished with an item, return it to the desk and bring the next back to your seat.
  • The Wi-Fi password is available from the Special Collections desk.
  • Photos are allowed but cost 50 cents per image (the same price as photocopies which require a request form). They require keeping a tally of how many photos are taken from each item/collection. Ask for a digital camera form and the required watermark.
  • Entrance to the library includes museum admission. The exhibits are worth visiting, especially the one on the War of 1812 (with “The Star-Spangled Banner” section).


Virginia Historical Society

428 North Arthur Ashe Boulevard, Richmond, Va.

Open Mon.–Sat., 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Free to members; suggested admission of $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and military.

Prep Tips:
  • Search the Library Collections Catalog. The staff suggests searching by subject, for example “Virginia – Place.” Make note of the Mss or call numbers for the call slips. Once an item has been selected from the search results, check the “Related Records” tab as there may be more to the collection.
  • Onsite card catalogs can also be browsed by subject.
  • See the researcher resources, which include guides for researchers, finding aids, and even indexes to some of the larger, more complex collections. Although VHS suggests going to the Library of Virginia (also in Richmond) for genealogical research, they also offer a guide to their own genealogical resources.
  • Email or call 804-342-9677 for reference assistance. Although the staff received my email, the response bounced. The Director of Library and Research said that sometimes their “” ending causes this to happen. When he could not respond via email, he called and then stopped by during my research visit to ensure all my questions were answered.
Registration Process:

Ann Cestor at the Virginia Historical Society.

  • Download and complete the registration form. Bring a government-issued ID to complete the registration.
  • Unload allowed items (electronics, small wallet, notes) in the library. Bring all other items to the lockers located downstairs near the museum entrance. Carry the key.
Requesting Items:
  • Submit up to five call slips at a time.
  • One folder at a time can be retrieved from the items brought out on a cart. Once finished with an item, return it to the registration desk (not the cart) to be checked back in.
  • Complete the digital camera permission form. On the form, keep track of all items photographed during the visit.
  • Wi-Fi is open under the name VMHC Public.
  • The Virginia Historical Society library is located within the Virginia Museum of History & Culture, and the museum is wonderful. The library entrance is on the side (facing the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts), the museum entrance at the front, and the parking lot at the back.
Kyle Hurst

About Kyle Hurst

Kyle, Genealogist of the Newbury Street Press, holds a B.A. in both history and anthropology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and has a master’s certificate in Museum Studies from Tufts University. With experience at the National Archives and Record Administration in Waltham, Kyle has worked on a wide variety of research projects as part of the Research Services team at NEHGS and, with Newbury Street Press, has contributed to a number of family histories. She has been credited for her contributions to The Root,, and she has also written for American Ancestors magazine.View all posts by Kyle Hurst