The Washingtoniana Collection
The majority of the Washingtoniana reference collections, including photos and vertical files, are available by appointment. Appointments may be scheduled Tuesday - Friday, 10 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 - 4 p.m., and one Saturday per month.
Please contact Special Collections staff to schedule an appointment:
Washingtoniana at the Historical Society of Washington, DC
801 K Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
The Washingtoniana Collection was established in 1905 when Library Director, Dr. George F. Bowerman, had the foresight to start collecting books and articles about the local community. Washingtoniana houses an array of resources and materials from the late 18th Century to the present, with a primary focus on the local city. In addition to the resources below, the Washingtoniana Collection includes Prints and Photographs and the DC Community Archives.
During the MLK Library modernization, the majority of Washingtoniana resources and reference staff are co-locating with the Historical Society of Washington, DC. Special Collections' interim location is in the historic Carnegie Library at Mount Vernon Square, DC Public Library's old central library and original home of Washingtoniana.
Resources in WashingtonianaBooks | Census | Directories | Genealogy and Family History | D.C. Government Documents and Legal Materials | Maps | Newspapers and Periodicals | Postcards | Real Estate | Vertical Files | Yearbooks | Finding Aids and Bibliographies | Note on 19th Century Jurisdictions
Washingtoniana holds more than 25,000 books and other printed materials, covering all subjects related to the District of Columbia -- social, legal, political and historical. Collection strengths include city planning, politics, architecture, history and biography. Approximately 25 percent of the book collection is available at the Carnegie Library interim location. These titles can be accessed through the online catalog. Narrow your search to Washingtoniana books by checking "Washingtoniana Library" as the Library. Please note that Washingtoniana books duplicated by the Historical Society of Washington, DC are currently in storage and may be accessed through the Historical Society's online catalog.
The separate Cutter Collection, consisting of rare and unique late 18th to mid-20th Century materials, is currently undergoing cataloging and preservation off-site. As these titles are cataloged and made accessible, unique items will become available at the Washingtoniana interim location.
Statistics from the federal decennial census, 1800 to 1880 (partial 1790 census; 1890 census burned) and from 1900-2000 are available. Some materials are in the form of microfilm and some are printed materials. Also available are census documents from the D.C. Office of Planning. The U.S. Census is searchable through the DC Public Library website with a library card through the Heritage Quest database. Selected District of Columbia Census materials are currently available at the Washingtoniana interim location.
Various directories are housed in the division, including city directories from 1822 to 1973, telephone directories from 1907 to present, and cross reference directories from 1975 to the present. The majority of directories are on microfilm and microfiche. All directories are accessible at the Washingtoniana interim location.
Genealogy and Family History
Visit our Genealogy Resources page for a comprehensive list of resources including census data, city directories, published cemetery records and more. The majority of genealogy and cemetery resources are available at the Washingtoniana interim location.
D.C. Government Documents and Legal Materials
D.C. government documents include the latest as well as historical editions of the D.C. Code, D.C. Municipal Regulations, the D.C. Register and the budget of the District of Columbia. Please note: The latest updated D.C. Code and the latest D.C. Municipal Regulations and D.C. Register can be found online. Also included are federal government documents relating to the District, from 1790 to the present.
The Washingtoniana collection does not support extensive case law research. Therefore, the majority of the collection's legal and government materials are in storage during the MLK Library modernization. Please see the Special Collections Interim Access & Services page for referrals to local repositories of legal information. Historic regulations are available at the Washingtoniana interim location.
There are more than 8,000 maps (print and microfiche) from 1612 to the present. These include a set of D.C. real estate atlases (print and microfilm) from 1877 to 1965 and Sanborn Fire Insurance maps up through 1999. Selected real estate atlases and individual printed maps have been digitized and are available on Dig DC. The bulk of the map collection is in storage during the MLK Library modernization. Duplicate plat maps, maps on microfilm, and maps on microfiche are available at the Washingtoniana interim location. Please see the Washingtoniana Map Collection page for more details.
Newspapers and Periodicals
A list of Washingtoniana's periodicals holdings is available online. Microfilm of all the major D.C. daily newspapers from 1800 through the end of 2011 are available at the Washingtoniana interim location. Please note that several papers may be accessed electronically through the library website with your library card. They include The Evening Star (1852-1981), The Washington Post (1877-present), The Washington Times (1990-present) and The Washington Afro-American (1989-present; found in the Ethnic NewsWatch database as the Afro-American Red Star).
Print editions include Washington, D.C.-focused publications, including local African American publications. Complete runs of many D.C. newspaper, journal and magazine titles from 1800 to the present are available. Print periodicals are stored off-site during the MLK Library modernization, but may be paged to the Library of Congress by request. To request materials and schedule an appointment for viewing, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-727-2272.
Consisting of 2,000 postcards, this collection documents both federal and hometown Washington. Arranged by topic, the collection’s value lies in documenting images found perhaps nowhere else. The Willard R. Ross Postcard Collection is now available online at Dig DC.
Washingtoniana holds a complete run of real estate assessments from 1886 to 2011. We also have building permits on microfilm from 1877 to 1949 (and a microfilm building permit index for 1950 through 1958). A building permits database, now available online at HistoryQuest DC, summarizes information from the “Permit to Build," including the date of construction, architect, builder, owner and dimensions. All permits and assessments are available on microfilm at the Washingtoniana interim location.
Vertical files are news clippings, brochures, pamphlets and other documents placed in folders based on subject headings. Examples of the headings include Residential Sections, Politics and Government, Colleges and Universities and Biographies, to name a few. As with the book collection, the files cover all subjects related to the District of Columbia: social, economic, cultural, recreational, political and historical. A Vertical File Subject Index is online and held at the desk to assist customers with their search. All vertical files, with the exception of biographical files, are available at the Washingtoniana interim location.
A small collection of District of Columbia high school and college yearbooks are housed in the reading room. Please check the Yearbook Index online for a list of holdings. We do not have every high school nor do we have every year of the schools within our collection. If you have and wish to donate yearbooks, or know of others who may, please contact us at email@example.com. All yearbooks are stored off-site during the MLK Library modernization, but may be paged to the Library of Congress by request. To request materials and schedule an appointment for viewing, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-727-2272.
Finding Aids and Bibliographies
Finding aids and bibliographies are available to help navigate the collections and research certain topics. They include:
- Online Research Guides
- Getting Started with Washington, D.C. History Online Resource Guide
- Southeast D.C. Neighborhood History Online Research Guide
- Southwest D.C. Neighborhood History Online Research Guide
- Northeast D.C. Neighborhood History Online Research Guide
- Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC Online Research Guide
- Bibliographies (Books and archival collections on DC history topics)
- Neighborhood History Bibliography
- District of Columbia Home Rule, Statehood and Voting Rights Bibliography
- Black Washingtoniana Bibliography
- Indexes and Lists
- Vertical File Index
- Washingtoniana Periodicals Holdings List
- School Yearbooks and Publications Index
- D.C. Newspapers on Microfilm (Index, by title and by decade)
- Records of the Columbia Historical Society Index - Volumes 1-59 (In addition to the index, we have all volumes through 73-74)
- Washington History Journal Index - Volumes 1-10. (Published by the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. In addition to the index, we have volumes 1-24.)
- Index to “The Rambler” (A series of articles by J. Harry Shannon on Washington and vicinity, published in The Sunday Star, Washington, D.C. from 1912 to 1927)
In the 19th Century, D.C. was divided into three jurisdictions, Washington City, Washington County and Georgetown. Washington County included everything above Boundary Street (now Florida Avenue) and across the Anacostia River. Until 1908, property in the county was identified by subdivision (similar to a neighborhood name) and lot number rather than square and lot number.
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