Top 10 Databases for Local, Regional and National History at FCPL

Fairfax County Public Libraries offers abundant digital resources for those who wish to learn more about historical topics. The Virginia Room at Fairfax City Regional Library subscribes to over 90 databases for patrons to access free of charge. Here, I'll present a quick run-down of the ones I've found most interesting and helpful in researching local history.

  1. The Fairfax County Cemetery Survey includes transcriptions from over 350 local cemeteries, including 13 slave cemeteries. Users can search by date and category. The descriptions are somewhat short, but nevertheless useful.

  2. Gale's US History In Context consists of hundreds if not thousands of reference articles on noteworthy events, biographies, and topics in US History.

  3. The Virginia Room's online historical national newspaper records include the complete runs of the Washington Post and the New York Times, in addition to all issues of the Wall Street Journal since 1984 and all issues of the LA Times and Chicago Tribune since 1985. These are invaluable primary sources for any project dealing with domestic political affairs.

  4. EBSCO's Regional Business News provides access to regional business and trade publications from both the US and Canada. When writing economic histories and labor histories, it's worthwhile to examine the perspectives of powerful business and trade leaders. It's unfortunate, but hardly surprising, that the FCPL system has no comparable database of labor union periodicals.

  5. The Historical Newspaper Index presents the complete runs of a number of defunct local publications, including, but not limited to, the Alexandria Gazette, the Fairfax City Times, and the Reston Times. I used these resources myself in carrying out research on local buildings on behalf of the Fairfax County History Museum. They're an excellent resource.

  6. HeritageQuest Online is a holistic and inclusive collection of American genealogical resources stretching back to the colonial period. It offers everything from primary sources to interactive census maps.

  7. Fold 3 is a great resource for information on soldiers and veterans from the Revolutionary War onwards, including prosopographies, photos, and personal documents. If you're interested in American military history, this is a great place to start for primary sources.

  8. EBSCOhost's eBook History Collection includes eBooks on the history of art, music, science, technology, law, and philosophy. This impressive collection of secondary sources is tremendously useful in fleshing out a historical argument and surveying the broader historiographical discourse.

  9. Biography In Context offers biographies of important and consequential public figures both past and present. Again, these are great secondary sources.

  10. American Ancestors and Ancestry Library Edition include genealogical resources from the New England Historical Society and other esteemed genealogical organizations.

An important thing to remember about using these databases is that systemic bias exists in the historical record, which can lead to the elision or erasure of the experiences of minority groups, be they defined on the basis of race, religion, sexuality, gender, or what have you. The perspectives of the powerful stakeholders in society are overrepresented while those of the downtrodden are obscured. Nevertheless, from a bird's eye view, these databases are a great place to start when launching a new history research project.

Recent Posts

See All

Useful Apps for Text Mining

Text mining is one of the most powerful tools in the modern historian's toolkit. Now that truly vast collections of digitized text are freely available, perusing them effectively requires more than si

Citizen History Online

There are myriad ways laypeople can get involved with the historical process, but one of my personal favorites is crowdsourced transcription projects. Many exist, so I'll just feature a handful here.