Key (boarding) Into Card Catalogs

By Rick Crume Premium

Once you ‘ve combed the Web for your family history with Yahoo!, AltaVista, Google or another search site, you might think you ‘ve found all there is to find. But you ‘d be missing some of the most useful family history resources on the Internet: the online catalogs of your old offline friend, the library.

Web researchers might mistakenly assume that Internet search engines index items listed in online library catalogs. In fact, you must search each online catalog directly to identify specific items held by the library that might have answers to your genealogical mysteries.

Just like the old card catalogs in wooden file drawers, library catalogs on the Internet help you find books and other library materials. Now that many institutions have placed their catalogs online, you can easily learn what family history resources are available in libraries across the United States and other countries.

And those resources are immense. A copy of just about every genealogy and local history ever published can be found in a library or archive somewhere. Published genealogies typically relate the story of an immigrant family and trace many of their descendants for several generations. Town, county and church histories often include biographical sketches with portraits and details on occupations, religious affiliations, places of residence, accomplishments and personality traits — information you won ‘t find anywhere else. State archives and historical societies hold county records, gravestone transcriptions, family Bible records and personal manuscript collections that may provide the essential clue you need to extend your family tree back another generation. All of these materials are listed in library catalogs that you can easily search on the Internet.

Entries in online library catalogs typically include basic bibliographic information, as well as a call number that identifies the book ‘s location on the library ‘s shelves. Here ‘s the Connecticut State Library ‘s catalog entry for a genealogy that has extensive information on my family:

  • Author: Amos, M. Frederick (Malcolm Frederick), 1926-. Keith, Gerald, 1909-1981. Perry, Myrtle K. (Myrtle Keith), 1975-.
  • Title: The descendants of Edmund and Jane (Webb) Price: one of the very early English-speaking couples to settle on the St. John River, compiled by M. Frederick Amos, Gerald Keith, Myrtle K. Perry
  • Publisher: [s.l.: s.n.], 1976.
  • Description: vii, 268 p.; 27 cm.
  • Bibliography: p. 253.
  • Notes: Includes index.
  • Subject: Price family. Price, Edmund, d. ca. 1785 — Family. New York (State) — Genealogy. New Brunswick — Genealogy.
  • Call Number: CS7LP946 1976

The library has added subject terms to let you know that this book deals with the family of Edmund Price, who died around 1785, and that the families discussed in the book lived in the state of New York and the Canadian province of New Brunswick. Sometimes, libraries add notes describing the book ‘s contents in more detail.

Most library catalogs let you search for individual words (keywords) within the Title, Notes and Subject fields. If you already have a reference to a book and know the author or title, then you should search the Author or Title field. If you ‘re just trying to find out what ‘s available, go ahead and search the Title, Notes and Subject fields for a surname, place name or other topic. Some catalogs let you search all three fields at once.

Get started on more thorough searches with the following three search strategies:

1. Search on a surname and the word family to find family histories.

For example, you might search on Price family. If you ‘re looking for a common name, try adding a place to narrow down the list of matches. By searching on Price family and New Brunswick, you ‘ll find only references that include both the Price family and New Brunswick. (This kind of search, using combining words, or “operators,” such as and, or and not, is called a Boolean search.) Keep in mind that library catalog entries usually list only the most prominent names discussed in a book. For example, the previous reference to the Price book cites only the two surnames Price and Webb, but the book ‘s index actually lists hundreds of surnames and thousands of individual names.

2. Search on the name of a town, city, county or state, and the word history to find local histories.

For instance, you might search for Mercer County Illinois history to find histories of Mercer County, 111.

3. Search on a place name and a record type to find a specific kind of record for a certain locality.

To find land records for Augusta County, Va., you ‘d search the library catalog on Augusta Co. Va. deeds or Augusta County Virginia deeds. Try spelling words out in full as well as using abbreviations. Try searching for both the singular and plural forms of a word.

Once you find a promising reference in an online library catalog, there are a number of ways to get the information you need from the book, microfilm or manuscript. If the Family History Library (FHL) <> in Salt Lake City has the item on microfilm or microfiche, you can borrow it through your local Family History Center, a branch of the FHL. The New England Historic Genealogical Society <> lends books to its members. Also, some books and microfilms that are useful to genealogists can be borrowed on interlibrary loan through your local public library. For example, you can borrow from the National Genealogical Society ‘s circulating collection through the St. Louis County Library, and the Mid-Continent Public Library (see the next page) in Independence, Mo., makes more than 5,000 genealogy and local history books available through interlibrary loan.

Most libraries will answer brief reference questions, such as a request to look up a name in an indexed book. Some libraries can do limited research or make photocopies for a fee. Go to the library ‘s Web site for a description of its policies and its contact information. Depending on the library ‘s capabilities, you may be able to submit questions by mail, phone, fax or e-mail. If you require more extensive research, the library staff may be able to provide you with a list of local professional researchers.

Following is a list of some of the most important online library catalogs for family history researchers. Keep in mind that some of these catalogs don ‘t yet list everything in the library ‘s collections. See our Web site <> for more links to library catalogs of state libraries and historical societies, national libraries and libraries with important ethnic collections, as well as online directories of library Web sites.

Remember that not all Web addresses begin with www — so be sure to type exactly what ‘s shown within the brackets. Or skip the typing and just click on the following library links from the Family Tree Magazine Web site <>. There, you ‘ll find these and more links to online library catalogs.

?Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, Ind.<>: The largest genealogical library outside Utah, the Allen County Public Library ‘s Historical Genealogy Department contains more than 300,000 printed volumes and 306,000 items of microfilm and microfiche. The collection includes more than 38,000 volumes of compiled family genealogies and nearly 5,000 genealogies on microfiche.

?Birmingham Public Library, Birmingham, Ala.<>: The library ‘s genealogy and local history collections are strongest for Alabama, but also include major holdings for Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Louisiana and other Southern states.

?Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah<>: The Genealogy and Microforms Department of BYU ‘s Harold B. Lee Library — also known as the Utah Valley Regional Family History Center <uvrfhc.lib.> — was the first, and remains the largest, of the 3,500 Family History Centers around the world. In addition to an extensive collection of printed resources, the library holds 650,000 rolls of microfilm and 2 million microfiches.

?California State Library-Sutro, San Francisco<>: The Sutro Library has one of the largest genealogical collections west of Salt Lake City. Its collections include more than 7,000 family histories, 35,000 local histories and vital-records titles, and all US census microfilms from 1790 to 1930.

?Dallas Public Library<>: The Dallas library ‘s genealogy collection consists of 80,000 books, 42,000 rolls of microfilm and 77,000 microfiches. Among the titles are family genealogies, all types of genealogical source material and one of the most complete military records collections in the nation. The library holdings cover the entire United States and include genealogical resources for Canada, the British Isles, Germany and other countries.

?Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Washington, DC <>: The DAR Library holds more than 160,000 books and some 60,000 items of microfilm and microfiche. Thousands of volumes of genealogical compilations, such as grave-stone transcriptions and Bible records, are not available from any other facility. The DAR collection focuses on the period of the American Revolution, but also includes substantial materials covering the US Colonial era and the 19th century.

?Denver Public Library<>: The library ‘s Genealogy Collection consists of about 60,000 volumes and 75,000 microforms. The collection focuses on US materials, and includes significant resources for Southern, African-American, Native- American, and Southwestern Hispanic research. The Western History Collection is made up of 100,000 volumes, 135,000 microforms, 600,000 photographs and a large manuscript collection.

?Detroit Public Library<www.detroit.lib.>: The library ‘s Burton Historical Collection contains genealogical materials covering the entire United States. It also features Canadian sources and early French records.

?Family History Library (FHL), Salt Lake City<>: The largest genealogical library in the world, the FHL of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds more than 2.2 million rolls of microfilm and about 742,000 microfiches. The library has extensive records from North America and Europe, a major Latin American collection and significant holdings for other countries. Hundreds of thousands of books, including family histories, local histories and other research aids, round out the collection. You can borrow most of the microfilms and microfiches through your local Family History Center.

?Houston Public Library-Clayton Library<>: The Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research has many family histories and county histories, as well as city directories for major US cities through 1860, and all US federal census records through 1920 (and for some states, through 1930). The collections also include abstracts and indexes of wills, deeds, and vital, church and cemetery records.

?Library of Congress, Washington, DC<>: The Library of Congress has more than 40,000 genealogies and 100,000 local histories. In addition to published material, the library has rich collections of manuscripts, microfilms, newspapers, photographs and maps. International in scope, the collections include extensive materials for North America, the British Isles and Germany, and significant holdings for other areas. The library ‘s collection of royalty, nobility and heraldry materials is unsurpassed in North America.

?Los Angeles Public Library<>: The library ‘s Genealogy Collection has more than 40,000 volumes, including more than 10,000 genealogies. The Central Library ‘s Map Collection, one of the largest in American public libraries, houses 80,000 maps, 2,000 atlases and 1,000 gazetteers.

?Mid-Continent Public Library, Independence, Mo.<>: The library ‘s collection of 50,000 titles encompasses genealogies, local and state histories, and indexes and abstracts of county records. The focus is on Missouri, states bordering Missouri and states east of Missouri. The library makes more than 5,000 genealogy and local history books available through interlibrary loan.

?National Genealogical Society, Arlington, Va.<>: Items in the society ‘s circulating collection, housed at die St. Louis County Library in Missouri, are available for interlibrary loan. Materials at the Virginia location may be accessed through the NGSearch service. You also can search online indexes to the society ‘s large collection of family Bibles and The National Intelligencer newspaper from 1800 to 1850.

?National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections<>: This catalog lists nearly 500,000 manuscripts at research libraries, museums, state archives and historical societies throughout North America. Check both the RLG and OCLC versions. The online catalogs cover only items cataloged since 1986. Check public and university libraries for printed volumes covering earlier years.

?New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston<>: Founded in 1845, this is the oldest genealogical society in the United States and publisher of the highly regarded New England Historical and Genealogical Register. In addition to extensive resources for New England genealogy, the society ‘s collections include many materials from other regions of the United States, Canada, England, Ireland and Continental Europe. Society members may borrow books from the Circulating Library, which holds more than 30,000 volumes, including many of the most popular of the nearly 200,000 books, journals, microfilms and CD-ROMs in the Research Library. Members can even place book loan orders and request photocopies directly on the site.

?New York Public Library<>: This library ‘s US History, Local History & Genealogy Division < chss/lhg/genea.html> has one of the largest genealogical collections in the country. Its family history collection is international in scope and includes many foreign-language materials. The division ‘s local and state histories cover the entire United States. Many of the library ‘s manuscript and typescript volumes are the only copies in existence.

?Newberry Library, Chicago<>: A private institution that ‘s open to the public, the Newberry Library has an impressive collection of 1.5 million books, 5 million manuscript pages and 300,000 historical maps. Noteworthy among these holdings are histories of Colonial New England families and rare titles on British noble families. The library ‘s local history collection includes town, county and church histories from all over the United States, Canada and the British Isles.

?Seattle Public Library<>: The Seattle library ‘s Genealogy Collection contains more than 23,000 books, as well as periodicals, pamphlets and microfilm. In addition to materials covering most areas of the United States, the library has some genealogy and local history works for other countries.

?Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland<>: One of the first institutions in the United States to collect genealogical materials, the Western Reserve Historical Society holds more than 18,000 family histories. The library focuses on source materials for states east of the Mississippi River, but also has major sources for other states. In addition to histories of all Ohio counties, the collection includes many town and county histories for the original 13 states, the Midwest and the upper South.

?Wisconsin Historical Society Library, Madison<>: The library ‘s extensive holdings include published genealogies and local histories for all parts of the United States and Canada. The newspaper collection comprises more than 4,000 titles in 11,000 bound volumes, 100,000 microfilm reels and 17,000 microprint sheets spanning three centuries of American newspaper history.
From the January 2004 Family Tree Magazine.