This is one in a series of researching tips taken from presentations by Betty R. Darnell, a noted local historian and genealogist. These notes are copyrighted by her.
Who was Draper?
Lyman C. Draper, 1815-1891, a student of American history, gathered memories and documents from descendants of Revolutionary War soldiers and western pioneers. He planned a series of volumes, and took several research trips in the 1840s. In 1854, the newly organized State Historical Society of Wisconsin hired Draper as corresponding secretary, and he continued his extensive correspondence. His manuscript collection was bequeathed to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
What is the Draper collection?
The manuscripts were organized by Society staff into a collection of 491 volumes in 50 series, loosely arranged by geographic area, subject, or individual. The collection covers primarily the period between the French and Indian War and the War of 1812 (ca. 1755-1815), and what Draper called the “Trans-Allegheny West,” the western Carolinas and Virginia, some parts of Georgia and Alabama, the entire Ohio River valley, and parts of the Mississippi River valley.
Most of the collection consists of Draper’s research notes and correspondence; the collection also includes extracts from newspapers and other published sources, transcripts of official documents, and much more.
John Dabney Shane was another collector of early Kentucky historical documents. After his death in 1864, Draper acquired part of his manuscripts, which became part of the “Kentucky Papers” of the Draper collection. (The remaining part of Shane’s manuscripts is housed at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia; that has been microfilmed, on 32 reels.)
Where can I find the collection?
The State Historical Society of Wisconsin has microfilmed the Draper collection and published a guide and calendars for several of the major series. The complete set of 123 reels of film is held by the Louisville Free Public Library and the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, the State Archives and the State Historical Society in Frankfort, and can be ordered on loan at Family History Centers, or from the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The Kentucky Historical Society also has “printbacks,” bound prints, from the microfilm of several series, including the Kentucky Papers; these printbacks are completely indexed.
How do I access the collection?
There is no complete overall index to the collection. The Guide to the Draper Manuscripts has a brief summary of each volume, and an everyname index to those summaries. The Filson has the guide and a complete set of the published calendars; the other libraries have the guide and the calendars for the Preston and Virginia Papers, the Kentucky Papers, and the Tennessee and King’s Mountain Papers. The calendars give more detail for a particular series, and also have everyname indexes to the calendars. A new help is Karen Green’s Index to the Draper Manuscripts, Series NN, the Pittsburgh and Northwest Virginia Papers. This is an everyname index to the complete series of the Pittsburgh and Northwest Virginia Papers.
In addition to your ancestors’ names, check the indexes for names of their neighbors and relatives. Check any famous person that your ancestor might have known in the time frame 1755-1815. Look for children and grandchildren (under their married names) of your Revolutionary War or pioneer ancestor – there may be an interview. Draper followed “trails” in his research – look at several pages before and after the indexed reference; there may be more.
In the general index, look up your state for a list of which volumes relate to that state; then check those volume descriptions in the Guide. Or just select a volume that looks interesting, and read the microfilm. Look at the front and the back of the volume; sometimes Draper added an index to a volume.
If you copy or transcribe parts of the collection, the accepted form of citation is, e.g., “Draper Mss., 25C12, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, indicating volume 25 of the C series, page 12, of the Draper Manuscripts.
Note: Most of the collection is considered secondary source material. When Draper has copied information from another source, it’s best to check the original whenever possible.Guides