Connecticut State Library is a unique place. An Italian Renaissance style building built in 1910 is home to the State Library, Archives and Museum of Connecticut History as well as the Supreme Court. Within our walls are some truly spectacular records. There’s the Matthew Grant diary, a journal of sorts kept by the second town clerk of Windsor, that dates to ca. 1637-1654. This volume contains the earliest known reference to a witch in New England. There are all sorts of state publications, legislative histories and court records from Connecticut’s early years. The Museum houses one of the largest collections of Colt firearms as well as the Mitchelson Coin Collection. While these things are amazing and unique, it is the records of World War I and World War II that really stand out.
In 1919, the Connecticut General Assembly mandated the establishment of the Department of War Records at the Connecticut State Library. The purpose and duty of this department was “… to collect, classify, index and install in the library all available material relating to Connecticut participation, public or private, in the world war and thus to establish a permanent and accessible record of its extent and character, such record to be as complete and comprehensive as possible and to cover not only the activities of the state, its subdivisions and agencies but also of Connecticut agencies of the federal government, organizations of private persons and of those individuals who were direct participants in the great struggle, wether as soldiers, sailors, aviators or otherwise.”
Believe it or not, this statute is still on the books!
This means we have a massive collection of records relating to World War I, and most of it is not necessarily well known or used. One of the largest collections is the Department of War Records, which is part of the Connecticut State Library record group (RG 012). There are around 26 boxes in the Historical Data File series, and each of those are filled with photos, lists, newspaper clippings, pamphlets and correspondence. There are also records of the 26th “Yankee” Division, Selective Service Records, and the 1919 Military Service Record Questionnaires. You’ll hear a to more about this collection over the coming months.
There are records from the Council of Defense, a state agency established to coordinate the war activities in the state. There are also the Military Department records (RG 013) which is a massive and unprocessed collection that contains the records of the Connecticut National Guard from 1775 to 1986.
We also have poster and photograph collections not to mention all the artifacts housed in the Museum. There you’ll find souvenirs of like German helmets, called Pickelhaube(n), clock hands from a village clock in France, uniforms, mess kits, medals, and sheet music. There are letters and diaries documenting the lives of the Connecticut men and women who went Over There.
As the 100 Years project moves forward we will tell you more about the hidden gems and collections here at the State Library. In the meantime, see what else we have by taking a look at out our Finding Aids or explore some of our photos on our Historypin channel.