by Steven W. Myers
The State Historical Society of Wisconsin's Draper Manuscript Collection is a unique research source that should interest many American family historians. Assembled by Lyman Copeland Draper, the manuscripts focus on the history of the so-called "Trans-Allegheny West" in the period between the French and Indian War and the War of 1812 (ca. 1755-1815). Although Draper's many intended publishing projects never materialized, he succeeded in gathering a massive amount of source material for future historians through his extensive interviewing and collecting. The results provide an equally important source for genealogists with links to early settlers in the entire Ohio River valley, as well as in the western Carolinas and Virginia, portions of Georgia and Alabama, and parts of the Mississippi River valley.
The manuscripts are largely Draper's research notes and correspondence, but also contain an assortment of legal documents, maps, diaries, family and personal records, business records, land records, court martial lists, muster rolls, order books, and extracts from newspapers and other publications. Draper's notes and collected documents are especially rich on the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, as well as on Indian conflicts in the intervening period. Organized into 491 volumes in 50 series, the complete collection is also available on microfilm in 100 American research libraries including the Genealogy Center.
Using this valuable resource does take some investment of time, since there is no complete index, but Josephine Harper's detailed "Guide to the Draper Manuscripts" (call number 016.978 H23g) provides a good starting point. In addition to detailed descriptions of each manuscript volume's contents and a general index, useful appendices include an index to Revolutionary War pension applicants, an index to
the names of authors, cartographers, correspondents and interviewees, and an extensive inventory of maps present in the collection. Separate, detailed calendars of each document in several series of the Draper Manuscripts have also been published, providing researchers with other useful indexes to at least portions of the collection. Those in print can be found on the Genealogy Center's microtext guides shelves, while calendars for series J, U, CC, DD, QQ, SS, TT, UU, VV,
XX, and ZZ are all available on microfiche in cabinet F-4. Several documentary volumes based on the Draper Manuscripts should also prove useful to researchers and can be identified in the online catalog under the names of the respective authors: Reuben Gold Thwaites, Louise Phelps Kellogg and Jared C. Lobdell. In addition, Karen Green has produced "Index to the Draper Manuscripts: Series NN, The Pittsburgh and Northwest Virginia Papers" (call number 973 D79c). For those who find it difficult to use microfilm, the Genealogy Center also has a printout of the entire Draper Manuscript Collection in bound volumes at call number 973 D79.
One example should suffice to prove the unique value of this important collection. The index to Draper's interviewees in the appendix to Harper's "Guide" references several individuals named Sprott in volume 19 of Series S, Draper's Notes. Draper had interviewed the children of Scots-Irishman John Sprott and provides biographical details as background for his interview notes. In these he writes that John was "born in Co. Down on January 2d 1760" and that his "father Thomas Sprott migrated to Pennsylvania in 1763." Both of these facts have not been found documented in any other source. Perhaps you can solve your own research problem using the Draper Manuscript Collection.
This electronic newsletter is published by the Allen County Public Library's Genealogy Center, and is intended to enlighten readers about genealogical research methods as well as inform them about the vast resources of the Allen County Public Library. We welcome the wide distribution of this newsletter and encourage readers to forward it to their friends and societies. All precautions have been made to avoid errors. However, the publisher does not assume any liability to any party for any loss or damage caused by errors or omissions, no matter the cause.
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Steve Myers & Curt Witcher, co-editors