Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Genealogy Research at the Houston Public Library Central Location

When people think of family history research in Houston, the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research is usually the first institution to come to mind. The Clayton is a branch in the vast Houston Public Library system. The main branch of this group is the Central Library and it has value for family historians as well.

Here is the lowdown on the flagship of the Houston Public Library, located downtown at 500 McKinney St.:

View of the first floor entrance, looking down from the third.

While the Clayton branch is good for just about everything you'd ever need in family history research materials, the Central library is good for solid collections of the Houston Post and Houston Chronicle in microfilm format. These are great genealogy tools for obituaries or stories of historical events in which your ancestors might be involved. According to the HPL catalog, the Post collection dates back to 1880, while the Chronicle collection starts in 1901.

If you are planning a trip to the Central branch of the Houston Public Library, do your homework before you go. If you know the exact dates you'll be searching, consider calling ahead to confirm the films are available. If they are, the librarian will have them pulled and waiting for you when you arrive. If you request in person, it could take 20-25 minutes for the items to arrive. They come to you by magic elevator from deep in the caverns of the building:

Magic elevator where microfilms appear after you request them.

The area were you request and view microfilms is on the third floor. The microfilm reader is easy to use. There is always a librarian on staff to help you. There is also a notebook with pictures, diagrams and instructions next to the machine to guide you with the process. Bring a flash drive with you and it's easy to capture and save the articles you need.

Microfilm area on the third floor.

There is library parking under the building. Enter from the right lane of Lamar Street. The garage appears to keep library hours, so if the library opens at 10 a.m., that's the time you need to get to the library. If you arrive at 9:50 a.m., you will be directed to leave and forced to drive in circles downtown for 10 minutes. Trust me, I have firsthand experience in this. You pay for parking by machine, so bring paper bills or a credit card. The maximum charge is $16 a day as of this post, but that could change at any time. It's best to check ahead.

Please note that the Central branch is a major urban public library, and includes all the little issues and concerns that come with visiting such an institution. Keep your valuables close to you and stay aware. There are several friendly Houston police officers patrolling the building and they're not there checking out the latest bestsellers.

Next to the Central branch building is the Julia Ideson Building, which holds the Houston Metropolitan Research Center. If you're coming downtown anyway, consider a visit to this wonderful archive as well.

Should you come to Houston for genealogy research, let me know. We can meet up for coffee, lunch or a little ancestor hunting.

If you can't make it to the Houston Central Library in person, I do offer research and lookup services at this location as well as all others in the Houston metro area. Please email me at the address provided in the top right of this blog. I will get you the information you need to further your family history research.

Houston Public Library
Central Branch
500 McKinney
Houston, TX 


  1. Great post, Amy! I fondly remember the Julia Ideson building as "the" Central Library when I was growing up. May be contacting you soon to do some lookups since it's hard for me to get to Houston nowadays. If you or a client ever needs something from Erath or Hood counties, let me know...

  2. A magic elevator ... I'd like one of those.

  3. I thought when they did the renovations they were getting rid of the magic elevator.

  4. Thanks for a great blog post, Amy! Now I'm ready to go to Houston. :)

  5. And I have never been there...