Western KY Genealogy: Locating Ancestors at Pogue Library

My first serious foray into western Kentucky genealogy was a visit to Pogue Library at Murray State University. That was a very long time ago, in the early 1970s. I had done a few family interviews, read a book or two, and invested in a ream of printed Family Group Sheets, but other than a love of my family’s stories, I had no experience and was a complete newbie.

At that time, the genealogy collection at Pogue was fairly small – tucked away in a dim basement in the oldest part of the building. In spite of that unlikely location, my treatment there was both kind and patient. Slowly, I gathered much-needed documentation and uncovered information I couldn’t find anywhere else. That early positive research experience has made me a life-long fan of the library that has now become the best genealogical research facility in the Jackson Purchase.

Today’s Pogue Library is Better Western Kentucky Genealogy Resource

Today, Pogue is the home of Murray State’s archives and special collections. They have robust genealogical and historical collections, pertaining to the Jackson Purchase and surrounding counties in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Pogue Library and statue of Rainey T. Wells taken from the quad in 2004. Public Domain


With both on line and in person resources, the library is useful from wherever you are. If you can visit in person, Pogue Library is lovely, particularly if you enjoy old well restored buildings. The original part of Pogue was constructed in 1931. It’s architecture and interior reflect that era nicely.

My favorite exterior feature is the graceful main entrance, which boasts a solid brass expanse with side windows and beautiful brass doors encircled with sculptural details. It’s beautiful any time, and when the brass has been polished recently, it’s breathtaking. The interior has also been restored to reflect the period. Large Palladian windows and a two-story high ceiling make the main reading room a wonderful place to work.

Virtual Genealogy Resources for Kentuckians 

Below are sections describing online items available at Pogue.

Extensive Local Newspaper Collection

Murry State is justly proud of its local newspaper collection. Their currently twenty-five area newspapers, concentrating on Calloway County and the Jackson Purchase. There are Murray newspapers dating back to the very early 1900’s or a little earlier.

Recently, I searched for “Jesse Roberts”, my grandfather. The result was a surprising number of articles mentioning him. My favorite was “Jesse Roberts Bids Farewell to Mail Service After 32 Years”. My grandfather was retiring as a rural mail carrier at age 70. I thought I knew everything about my grandpa Jesse, but I didn’t! He had worked for the Tobacco Association, an organization I had never heard of, for 4 years, just before he became a soldier in World War I. Now I am researching this group, and what part in the Association my grandfather played.

Indices to Newspapers

In addition to the newspapers themselves, there are indices to the most successful Murray newspaper, The Murray Ledger and Times. The paper’s obituaries have been indexed from 1975 through 2019. could be a major time saver. The Murray State News (the MSU newspaper) has been indexed from 2009-2019

Collections: Calloway County History and Murray Phone Books

Although you may be able to find some of these in larger genealogical collections, several histories of Calloway County are available online. The Battle 1886 History of the counties of the Jackson Purchase is also available. All in all, this is much easier to navigate than vast collections like Family Search.

Along with major histories, the collection boasts some other interesting documents. There is a Murray phone book from 1920, and my favorite, “Busy People of Calloway County”, a booklet dated 1901 containing government, business and professional people in Murray and Calloway County. The drawings are great, and the business and professional names may be treasures.

Listen to Oral Histories of Western Kentucky

The oral histories are in the process of being made available online. Currently, to listen to an interview, contact the library, and give them your email address. If the recording is ready, they will email it to you. Listening at the library must be arranged in advance, and may not be available, even then. The oral histories are a collection in the archives there is excellent documentation of their contents. I took a look at an oral history interview dealing with segregated education and life in the Jackson Purchase. To hear the interview, you must contact the library, but the archive entry for the interview provided a brief biography of the interviewee, the subjects discussed, and the locations mentioned. There are many subjects of historical interest in this collection.

Find Ancestor Photos in the Murray State Yearbooks

If you’re researching a Murray State alum, you’re in luck. Every volume of The Shield, the school’s yearbook, has been digitized and is online. There are almost 100 volumes, with the new volumes promptly added.

My grandmother, Priscilla Lillie Vance is in the very first volume, dated 1925. When I browsed through her classmates, there were several names I recognized, either as my grandmother’s friends, or my relatives. Every page has been digitized, giving you insight into the school’s culture you won’t find with just a single photo from a genealogy web site. 

Other Photo Collections

The photo collection is outstanding. It is indexed as well as it can be. Not all images have known subjects or locations, however. There are sub-collections simply titled “unknown” that are just waiting for someone to identify. The photos are primarily Calloway County and Murray, but other sites in the area may also be available

This collection is part of the Manuscripts Collection. Go to the Manuscripts page and choose Photographs from the list of topics in right pane.

Learn about Administration of the University

Many documents pertaining to the running of the University are available online, covering the entire period of Murray State’s history. These documents are fairly comprehensive, so if you are researching a member of the faculty, staff or administration, you may be able to find information here.

Other Possible Online Resources

At least some publications by professors and students at Murray State are directly downloadable, and some can be read from your browser. The online collection was only started in 2009, but worth a look.

One option I found useful was to choose the discipline where you might find your topic, then search it by title. There are other ways to organize the list, including by author, title, or date. Here’s the Theses collection is available online.

Research Aids

In addition to items that you can see online, there are many others viewable only on site. For many of these original documents or collections of documents, detailed descriptions are available online.

As noted with the Photographs collections, there are many written word Manuscripts that may be of genealogical interest.

The web site provides an inventory of the archives, so you can see exactly what is contained. Large collections that are in more than one box, list a summary of what is in each box. When I was trying to find when my grandfather, Hugh Farris, worked at the Ryan Milk Company, I came across a huge archive of papers from the company. I didn’t find what I needed, but I was able to cross these papers off my possible source list because the contents were well described.

In Person Resources

If you visit the library, there are even more resources available to you.

The Vertical Files

Pogue is proud of its vertical file collection. The collection consists of information from visiting researchers, who want to share information about their families. The files are in alphabetical order, and to use them, you look through the file cabinets for the names in which you are interested.

Books of Genealogical Interest

Many published local family histories, cemetery listings, genealogies with local connections, and other related books are in this collection. These books can be found in the MSU Libraries Card Catalog (online). I first found “Bible Records of Calloway County and Adjoining Counties” many years ago.

This locally written collection contains several Bible records of my direct ancestors. When I referred back to this book recently, I discovered my own third Great Grandfather, Gilbert Harding, and his brother, Henry Wildy Harding, were indeed children of Captain Enoch Harding of Stafford County, Virginia.

From this link, use the Search box. Who knows what you will discover.

Kentucky Counties Collection

The library maintains sections for each county in Kentucky. The Jackson Purchase counties are most complete, but every county has at least some information available. From this link, use the Search box to look for your county of interest. 

Military Resources

Both general and Kentucky-specific books are available for the major conflicts up to and including the United States Civil War. This includes Confederate pension records specific to Kentucky. From this link, use the Search box to look for military conflict of interest. 

Tips for Visiting Pogue Library

  • Have a plan
    Use online resources discussed here and the main card catalog to identify where you need to search. Leave time for serendipity, too.
    The card catalog is a good starting point for helping determine your path.
  • To Park on Campus
    Parking is free, but before you park on campus, contact the MSU Police Dept. (270) 809-4812 and register your vehicle. Otherwise, your vehicle may be towed. You will need number of days of your stay, vehicle make, model and color, plus both your driver’s license and license plate numbers.
  • Personal Computing
    A guest Wi-Fi system is provided, but you must bring your own laptop. A jump drive for extensive downloads is highly recommended. You may also access Ancestry Library Edition on your Wi-Fi connected computer in the library.
  • Save what you find
    Paper copies are available at $0.25 per page. However, the camera on your smart phone works well.

About the Author

<h3><a href="" target="_self">Deborah J Outland</a></h3>

Deborah J Outland

Fascinated with family history since the age of 10, Deborah Outland began family research seriously in the mid 1970s. Her career in software development slowed down her research, but since her retirement, genealogy is her primary pursuit. Since 2015, when she tested her entire family’s DNA, she has branched out into genetic genealogy, integrating it with her traditional research techniques.. her primary tree is online at Ancestry, and she is currently transferring that Tree to the collaborative WikiTree web site where she is a a volunteer genealogist.

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