Toolkit Tutorial: Searching WorldCat
4/9/2013
Who has the time to hunt down genealogical treasures scattered across thousands of distant repositories? You do—with our three-step guide to WorldCat.
Who has the time to hunt down all the genealogical treasures scattered across thousands of distant libraries and other repositories?
 
You do—if you use WorldCat, a catalog of 1.4 billion items at more than 10,000 libraries worldwide. This “union catalog” is a great tool for locating books, manuscripts, microfilms and other family history resources: Instead of poring through numerous library catalogs individually, you can search them all in WorldCat.
 
Although WorldCat doesn’t yet cover the catalogs of the Family History Library (FHL) and some other notable genealogical collections, it does let you cover quite a bit of ground. You might discover a rare historical book or trove of family papers you never knew existed, or locate resources at repositories you never thought to check.
 
Unlike the FHL catalog, WorldCat isn’t organized specifically for genealogy. So follow along as we teach you strategies to turn up materials most useful for family history.
 
 
1. Enter your query.
Search on a last name plus the word family to find genealogies and family papers. If the name is common, add another term, such as a place, to focus on the most relevant matches. Because the name Robertson is common, I’ve added the name of the family’s New York town in this example, using marks to indicate exact phrases: “Robertson family” and “South Worcester.”
 
Keep in mind that catalog descriptions don’t usually list every name in a book or manuscript, just those of the individuals and families treated most prominently. Searching on first and last names doesn’t often produce good matches, but you might get lucky.
 
If you’re searching for a specific item, click on Advanced Search to do an Author or Title search. You can limit matches to just manuscripts by selecting Archival Material as the Format.
 
Search on the name of a town, county or state plus the word history to find local histories. To locate indexes, abstracts and transcriptions of local records, search on a place name along with the word genealogy or a record type: Bible, court, directories, immigration, wills. Try other terms, too, such as occupations, ethnic groups, and the names of religious, hereditary and fraternal organizations that might pertain to your family.
 
 
2. View matches.
The results screen lists the most relevant matches first. If you get too many irrelevant matches, narrow your search by adding another search term in the Search box on this screen.
 
Each entry includes title, description and type, such as book, archival material (manuscript), journal, article or database. If it’s an Internet resource, there will be a link to the website.
 
Click on the title to view more information on the item.
 
 
3. View a detailed record.
The detailed record shows that this item is held by the Minnesota Historical Society. If no holding library is shown, you’ll need to go to your local library and search WorldCat via FirstSearch (a more detailed version available at libraries) to locate the resource.
 
Scroll down for more details, and you’ll find that this item consists of 13 boxes of correspondence, legal documents and business papers. The detailed catalog description lists 35 authors of these papers and 49 subject terms. Most libraries are less diligent in cataloging their holdings; typical entries will be briefer.
 
Once you find promising materials, you have several options for accessing them. WorldCat automatically identifies your location and tells you the closest libraries that hold each item. If you can’t visit the library, you can request an interlibrary loan or copies of specific pages through your public library.
 
For a book, try Google Books, Internet Archive, the Brigham Young University Family History Archive or HeritageQuest Online (accessible through a subscribing library) to see if you can view the entire tome online for free. Books—in original or reprint form—also might be for sale on Amazon, AbeBooks  or Heritage Books. Check the Family History Library catalog for microfilms, which you can rent at your nearest branch Family History Center.
 


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