Western History / Genealogy > About the Department

The Western History Collection and the Genealogy Collection merged into one department in 1995, moving into the fifth level of the sumptuous new Michael Graves library building. Both departments' holdings started being collected in the first decades of the twentieth century, 1935 and 1910 respectively. The staff of the combined department numbers approximately forty-five, with many volunteers assisting with special projects.

Book Spines

The celebrated collection of Western Americana officially opened to the public in 1935, though it built upon a pre-existing Colorado authors collection of books and a Colorado history collection of pamphlets. Today the western subject specialty reflects all phases of development of the trans-Mississippi West. The collection continues to grow and presently includes 200,000 cataloged books, pamphlets, atlases, maps, and microfilm titles. In addition, it offers 600,000 photographs, 3700 manuscript archives, and a remarkable collection of Western fine art and prints to researchers across the world.

The Genealogy Collection is the second largest between the Mississippi River and the West Coast and the largest in the Rocky Mountain area. Family history researchers find material spanning dozens of generations and covering a wide spectrum of ethnic and geographic categories. Sixty-thousand books, 75,000 pieces of microform, and hundreds of magazine and newsletter titles, charts, clippings, atlases and manuscripts constitute the collection. The joint holdings offer extensive historical resources to both western history researchers and genealogy researchers.

Newspaper Mastheads

More particulars about the Western History Collection

The Western History Collection began under the leadership of City Librarian Malcolm G. Wyer. Of the collection, he has been known to say "[It] is one of my great satisfactions." He and an academic adviser built the collection upon a sound base of books by Colorado authors and pamphlets on Colorado history. His efforts to collect in local and western history were validated by none other than renowned American author Willa Cather:

Not long after we began actively building up the Western collection, Willa Cather spent two or three weeks working in our library in connection with research on the early history of Colorado and New Mexico in preparation for her book, Death Comes for the Archbishop. She talked with us about her work and expressed regret that several important books on this region which she had seen referred to were not in our library nor had she been able to locate them in other libraries in the two states. She discussed the importance of library facilities for literary and historical study, especially in a city like Denver which has the only large public library for the entire region and in which writers might expect to find the source materials giving background history and early development of the surrounding region. From the point of view of an author she considered it the obligation of a library such as ours to furnish the essential regional materials for scholarship and research. This visit confirmed the soundness of the objectives we fixed in establishing this new field of development.

from Malcolm G. Wyer's Western History Collection, its Beginning and Growth


By 1935 the collection had reached such size as to warrant its organization as a separate department. Efforts had succeeded in finding Colorado and western newspapers, magazines, programs, yearbooks, maps, emigrant guides, broadsides, leaflets, local organization information, business records, mining and cattle company records, municipal reports, photographs and western art.

The emphasis on regional collecting attracted the interest and assistance of many individuals. One donor offered a sizable number of photographs and lantern slides, which are now priceless. Another donor initiated conversations with photographer David F. Barry about his valuable images of Sioux Indians, Indian life and encampments, U.S. Army officers, and Buffalo Bill; eventually the department received 1900 Barry negatives.

One early friend of the department offered a superior collection of books illustrated by Remington, including autographed copies. Many notable works of William H. Jackson, L. C. McClure, Alfred E. Mathews, David F. Barry, George Catlin, Karl Bodmer, Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt, Horace C. Poley, Benjamin S. Hopkins, George Elbert Burr, Harry Rhoads, and Edward S. Curtis - to name a few - came to grace the Western History Collection over the years.

Many Colorado authors have used the collection in researching for their books. A short list includes John Rolfe Burroughs, Ruth Underhill, Martin Castle, Luke Short, Marshall Sprague, William McLeod Raine, Muriel Sibell Wolle, and Louisa Ward Arps. Authors beyond Colorado include Lucius Beebe, Donald J. Berthrong, Dr. Robert Taft, Ramon Adams, Mari Sandoz, David Lavender, Irving Stone, James Michener, and Michael Streight.


Photo by Roel Muñoz
Gates Reading Room, Western History / Genealogy Department
Denver Public Library


More particulars about the Genealogy Collection

City Librarian Chalmers Hadley directed the establishment of the Genealogy Collection in 1910. The collection is primarily a U.S. research collection, though it offers some Great Britain and European resources. The collection has come to be the official depository for the Colorado Genealogical Society, the Colorado Council of Genealogical Societies, Colorado Chapter of Palatines to America, the Colorado Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society, the Olibama Lopez Tushar Hispanic Heritage Research Center, and Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England Family History Society, and many hereditary and patriotic societies.

The past few years have seen an emphasis upon the collecting of Southern, African-American, North American Indian, and Southwestern Hispanic resources. Go to the Genealogy page to see special features of the Genealogy Collection.

Computer access to the entire department's collections is available through the library's catalog and through the OCLC network called WorldCat.

Find specifics about the collections on the collections or subjects overview pages, or the main page. To see some rare items, visit the Booklover's Tour.

Awards and Fellowships offered by the Western History Genealogy Department include the Caroline Bancroft History Prize and DPL Environmental Fellowship.


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