The Filson began collecting and creating published material after its founding in 1884. With many of its early members belonging to Kentucky’s oldest and most prominent families, the Filson was able to begin assembling an important collection of publications. Learn more about how to search the library’s holdings, and what constitutes different parts of the collection, below.

How to Search for Library Materials

The Library Catalog is the main access point to discover published materials at the Filson, including books, pamphlets, and maps. Please note that materials from the collection do not circulate, and the Filson does not participate in interlibrary loan. The Filson also has listings of our various vertical files and other genealogical collections. See below to link directly to these lists, or visit the Finding Aids page to do a general search. For help with researching your family history, house history, and other topics, see the Research Guides.

Types of Materials Found in the Library Collection:

Books – The Filson library book collection concentrates on books that have topics relating to the Ohio River Valley area during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, such as history, genealogy, religion, politics, vital statistics, and more. Find books in the Library Catalog.

Pamphlets – A pamphlet is a printed item similar to a book but is usually not hard bound and has less than 100 pages. Pamphlets can be a great source of historical information. Many pamphlets were published containing political speeches on a variety of topics; and you can also find a wealth of information in pamphlets on subjects that may not merit a whole book. Find pamphlets in the Library Catalog.

Maps – The Filson map collection is divided into Large and Small maps and includes rare maps. We have many state and county maps for Kentucky. The dates of the maps in the collection range from the 18th to 20th century. Find maps in the Library Catalog and learn how to find maps using this research guide [PDF].

Rare – The Filson’s book, pamphlet, and map collections all contain “rare” material. The online catalog denotes the rare items with “RB” or “Rare” in the call number. Not all rare material is necessarily old, but instead could be limited in production and therefore more valuable. Find rare materials in the Library Catalog.

Family Charts – Family charts are large genealogical charts that have been given to the Filson. They are cataloged by family surname. View the list of family charts.

Family Bibles – Most bibles have pages inside where family information can be recorded. The bibles in the Filson collection are not usually pulled for researchers as all of the family information from these bibles was copied and placed within the family files. View the list of family bibles.

Vertical Files:

  • Family Files – The family files collection contains information on Kentucky families, listed by surname. Family files may include items such as correspondence, research notes, newspaper clippings, and other miscellaneous information. There is also a subset of these files on early Catholic families, collected by Father James Aloysius Lyons, a priest known for his research on Catholic Church history in Kentucky. His files on families and individuals primarily involve research on the earliest settlers in Kentucky. This collection is on loan from the Thomas Merton Center. View a list of  family file surnames. View the Lyons family file list.
  • Historical Files – These files contain miscellaneous information on a number of Kentucky history topics. Subjects include historic homes, wars (especially the Civil War), schools & colleges, and organizations & businesses. Files on individuals are also included. Files contain items such as correspondence, research notes, and other miscellaneous information. View a list of topics with associated historical files.
  • Newspaper Clippings Files – The Filson maintains newspaper clippings files separated into 2 categories: biographical and subject. The biographical files contain clippings on individuals, while the subject files categorize articles by topic. Subject files have particularly good coverage of regional schools, businesses and organizations, and famous houses. Many articles are from the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Louisville Times, but other local and statewide publications are also represented. Most of the articles in our files were written in the latter half of the 1900s, but some may date back to the earlier part of the century. View the list of newspaper clipping files.
  • Ohio Valley Artist Collection – Many artists have left their mark throughout the history of the Ohio Valley. The Filson’s artist files are composed of various materials such as clippings, articles, brochures, Internet findings and research letters on each artist. View a list of artist files.

Microfilm – The Filson has a large microfilm collection covering a variety of topics. Some of the more popular film is Kentucky vital statistics such as marriage and death records, Kentucky tax lists, Jefferson County court records, and the Draper Manuscripts. You can view a list of newspapers on microfilm here. Cataloging of the microfilm collection is ongoing; cataloged film can be found in the Online Catalog.

Louisville Newspapers – The Filson houses scattered physical issues of many prominent and obscure Louisville-based newspapers dating from 1801 to 2008. Some of these have been microfilmed and appear in the microfilm list above, but most exist only in their physical format. Find a list of the Louisville papers in our collection here.

Serials – Also known as periodicals, serials are published in multiple parts over a period of time. The Filson has a large collection of serials that cover several states but concentrate mostly on Kentucky. Serials include publications by schools, churches, county historical societies, families, organizations, and more. View a list of serials holdings.