Thursday, September 13, 2012

Online Hint : Searching for Family in Web Catalogs

Family history seeking on the internet should not consist only of genealogical databases.   Nor should it stop with search engines such as Google, Mocavo, and Yahoo.   Perhaps you've even become adept at searching book texts on sites such as Internet Archive and Google Books.  There's still more.

Consider adding another search strategy to your online checklist...library and archive catalogs.   You might think that catalogs are just a listing of titles and authors and therefore offer little assistance in the hunt for your ancestors.  In fact, this is a limited view of what online catalogs have to offer. 

My personal online research checklist consists of detailed searches of web catalogs ranging from local and county, state and national, and even worldwide.  Before illustrating how this can work for your online searching, let's cover a few basics about library cataloging. 

Those of us who are at least 35 something will remember the "old" version of the library catalog.  It typically consisted of drawers and drawers of 3 x 5 cards.  There were usually several cards for each book which would include the title and author as well as key subject tracings.  Subject tracings were an important part of the cataloging because we needed those to locate materials on a specific topic, person or place.  Subject tracings were not always straightforward to the common user.  For instance, if I were seeking information about the American Revolution, I needed to look up United States--History--Revolution.  Then there could be any number of other subheadings such as Biography, Pictorial Works, Social Aspects, and so on.  It was a cumbersome process compared to the ease with which we can now search.

First rule of thumb when searching online - always search using the catalog's Advanced Search where a query may be made using one or more of the following criteria:
  1. Title
  2. Author
  3. Subject
  4. Publisher
  5. ISBN
  6. Notes
  7. Keyword

Advanced Search Screen - Allen County Public Library (ACPL)

Like other libraries, the Allen County Public Library (ACPL) in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has all of the family histories shelved together within the library in alphabetical order by focus surname.  It is tremendous fun to walk through those stacks and find books pertaining to your family name.  But, what if your family name is not the "focus" of the book?  What if the Crawford Family History also has several collateral lines, and what if they aren't listed in the title?  What if your Bohn Family actually appears in a book focusing on the Palmer Family?

Using the ACPL catalog, if you enter the search terms "Crawford" and "Family" in the Title search, it returns 43 hits.  However, if you enter the same two search terms in the Subject search, there are 233 results, all of which have some reference to a Crawford family.  Good library cataloging will reflect as many as dozens of tracings to assist us in locating the information we seek. 

Bibliographic Record - ANSWER Catalog, Library of Michigan & State Archives of Michigan

For family historians, perhaps the most important part of a catalog record is the Notes section.  In addition to subject tracings, the Notes provide a brief summary of the item.  Here is where you may find mention of individuals, or references to a period of time or place.  In most catalogs, the Notes are also fully searchable, an excellent opportunity to enter some family names to locate family gold nuggets such as the civil war diary of Cyrus Bacon of Edwardsburg, Cass County, featured above.

Simply put, the concept of library cataloging is to provide, without having the actual item in your hand, as much insight into that item as possible to help you determine if it is of possible interest to you. 

Catalogs to be sure to search:
  1. Family Search Library Catalog
  2. Library of Congress
  3. DAR Library
  4. American Ancestors (NEHGR)
  5. World Cat
  6. National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC)
  7. Allen County Public Library (Fort Wayne, IN)
Create a personal checklist utilizing catalogs from [local examples in brackets]:
  1. State Archives and/or Library [Library of Michigan & State Archives of Michigan]
  2. Statewide Library Catalogs [Michigan Electronic Library (MEL)]
  3. Regional Archives and/or Library [Archives & Regional History Collection, WMU]
  4. Countywide Library [Van Buren District Library]
  5. Local Libraries, Historical & Genealogical Societies
Let's say that you would like to create a list of titles relating to genealogy at your local library.  Yes, you can visit in person and browse shelves, something I enjoy doing, but likely you won't see all of titles because of poor book labels, missing volumes, items in alternate locations, or some may be checked out or elsewhere in use.  Assuming that proper cataloging has been done for each item, you could generate a manageable printed or downloaded list using the Subject search line and entering text "Genealogy" or "Family History."

These are just a few examples of how to make online catalogs work for you.  The lists here are just a few that are available.  To locate others in your target areas, visit the Libraries, Archives & Museums section of Cyndi's List, visit the state or county page in the U.S. GenWeb Project, or do a geographic search using your favorite search engine.  Most online catalogs will need to be searched independently, but it will be worth the time spent.  Happy hunting!

Nameless Picture of the Day
No picture today as I write to you while on the road.  See you next time.