Looking for Ancestors in the Library of Congress Video Collection

By Maureen A. Taylor

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library of congress video

I’ve talked about all the images you can find on the Library of Congress, but were you aware that they have videos, too? Your ancestor might be depicted in them.

The past in motion

Above is a video of a Labor Day parade in Fitchburg, Massachusetts shot in 1904. The camera person is anonymous, but in this early home movie we can see the people of Fitchburg enjoying themselves.

Dating home movies is similar to dating pictures. It’s all about the clues.

In this film, we can see the following:

  • Early automobile
  • Men in derby and straw hats
  • Women in oversize headwear
  • Decorations and a reviewing stand
  • Buildings that may be no longer

Each of these clues verifies the date of the film. They also tell a story.

My favorite part of early movies is watching how people move wearing the clothing of the time. Corsets and long dresses made women walk differently that we do with our stretchy fabrics.

What do you see in this film?

Taking the story further

There are documents that can help us fill in the blanks of parade day:

  • Census records tell us who was living in Fitchburg in 1900. Many of those people might be in this film.  They could be your relatives.
  • Newspapers give us the details on who participated in the parade. The Fitchburg Sentinel is available on (a subscription database).
  • We can trace the parade route on maps.  The local historical society, public library, or an online source like ProQuest (a library subscription database) may have ones that show us where it took place.
  • Look for still images of the same area taken on another day. You’ll be able to view the scene without the crowds.

Movies have their place in our genealogical pursuits. All you have to do is find them. Next week I’ll be back with tips on searching the Library of Congress website.

library of congress

The Library of Congress in Washington D.C. is the biggest library in the world, home to 5.5 million maps and more than 14 million photos and prints. Fortunately, it has become easy to access many of these useful genealogical materials online. This short video demonstration will take you through a step-by-step tutorial for how to find free maps and photos on the Library of Congress website. Download yours today!