Many of your most-wanted genealogy records may be one-of-a-kind manuscript items hidden in an archive somewhere: diaries, correspondence, records, local histories, old photos, and papers from local governments, schools, businesses, churches, cemeteries, social clubs, orphanages and other institutions. These unique genealogy records can contain vital information and rich, colorful details that will bring your family history to life, but they won’t turn up in a typical online genealogy search.
Fortunately, you can search for those records using ArchiveGrid, a free online catalog of finding aids that describe more than four million archival materials in 1,000 repositories around the US and the rest of the globe. This particular genealogy search tool is great for finding collections in participating repositories and libraries, including the collections from university libraries to court records, historical societies, and more. You can then use the finding aid to learn more about the materials and request copies, visit the holding library or hire a local researcher. Follow these steps to find the genealogy records you need in ArchiveGrid.
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1. ArchiveGrid has a single search box (no advanced search) in which to enter all keywords and search operators. Try entering full name of a prominent ancestor; a surname along with city, county and/or state; or a surname along with the words family or history. If you’re searching for records of an organization, try entering a partial title or description, along with a place: methodist church johnstown pa. This will help you capture results under different titles, including an organization officer’s name. Use the name of the locale and city or state to call up archival items about local history. Add terms such as history or map to narrow your results. After entering desired search terms, click Search.
2. At the top or bottom of the page, select how many search results you want to see at once. Select Summary View at the top of the page to group your results by name, topic, location and even repository.
3. Click on the title of a search result to see its full catalog entry with details, including its format (microfilm, book, etc.), content and creator. Click Contact Information to connect with the repository. Or click Save to add an entry to a custom list of search results you can download in an Excel file by clicking the shopping cart icon at the top right. The More Like This section on the right suggests related items.
4. The easiest way to broaden or narrow your search is to scroll to the bottom of the page and click Fewer Matches (requires your search terms to be nearer to each other), Exact Matches (looks for your search terms as an exact phrase) or More Matches (includes records with one of your search terms, not necessarily all of them). To change the search yourself, use the main search box at the top of the page. Add words (in all caps) such as AND (all words must appear in your results) OR (either word must appear in your results, such as ben OR bernhard shulz) or NOT (excludes a word from your search results, such as frosty refrigerator co. NOT weather). Put quotes around an exact phrase, such as “lake county,” or parentheses around a group of terms such as (lincoln family illinois) NOT abraham. ArchiveGrid also allows you to specify certain data fields to search, such as the holding repository’s name (archive:“library of virginia”). For more tips, click How to Search, then Metadata Facets at the bottom.
5. To find historical archives near a location you’re researching, go to the home page and type the city and state or ZIP code in the box under the map labeled Find Archives Near You. You’ll see a Google map of archives whose collections are cataloged in ArchiveGrid. Click the plus sign to zoom in. Roll over a red pin to see the archive’s name; click the pin to search its collections or make contact.
6. The same organization that brings you ArchiveGrid also runs WorldCat, a larger multi-library catalog with more than 2 billion items, most of them published. WorldCat’s archival items overlap with what’s in ArchiveGrid, but not entirely. And some of WorldCat’s published items also may be rare and relevant to your family history, such as city directories, insurance maps and newspapers. If searches were productive in ArchiveGrid, it’s worth repeating them in WorldCat. Limit results to archival materials by clicking on that parameter on the left sidebar. If your results include digitized items, you can click the box for Downloadable Archival Material to see just those matches.
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From the May/June 2017 Family Tree Magazine