Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Using Smart Technology to Jump-Start Your Genealogical Research: Part Ten

Using Billions of digitized source documents in thousands of archive websites: Continued

The real challenge of doing genealogical research is locating records that contain information about our ancestors. Our modern technology has expedited finding those records that have been digitized and extensive indexing projects, both volunteer and commercial, have further enhanced the ability of researchers to extend the number of records that are discoverable. But the vast bulk of the remaining records are in repositories, each with its own unique cataloging system and catalog. In many cases, these catalogs are still paper-based and only accessible by physically visiting the location of the records. In many cases, records are stored but uncataloged and only physically searchable. The existence of such records may be discoverable online, but the examination process requires travel to the location of the records. 

Perhaps the largest of these repositories that still requires physical examination due to a lack of digitized records and adequate catalogs is the U.S. National Archives and their individual branches scattered across the country. The inherent limitation of the National Archives' catalog and all such catalogs is that they are inherently limited in their ability to provide the researcher with information about the specific content of the records. Cataloging systems provide general research assistance but always require direct examination of the items contained in the catalog. Digitization of those records enhances the availability of the contents, and optical character recognition or OCR further assists the researcher and indexing speeds up the searching process. 

The flood of online digitized documents often gives the impression that "everything is online." But any diligent genealogical researcher will soon find it necessary to go beyond what has been indexed and begin looking for even more information. Technology can measurably assist even those researchers that find themselves looking for paper records. One major impediment to much of the necessary research is the U.S. Copyright law. Copyright restrictions have created a huge body of genealogically valuable books and other records that can only be identified through catalogs and are not usually digitized. Researchers must either purchase the items or find them in a library. Fortunately, we have a huge, consolidated, online catalog to assist us in finding records, including books in tens of thousands of libraries across the world: the

With over 2 billion catalog entries from thousands of libraries worldwide, the catalog is easily one of the top websites assisting researchers in finding revelevant books and other other items. Here is a screenshot of the advanced search page.

A search for the term "genealogy" shows the depth of the catalog with over 1.3 million responses. The website is, afterall, a library catalog and if the user enters his or her zip code, the program will provide a list of libraries that have any item selected. 

The's sponsoring organization, the OCLC or Online Computer Library Center, Inc., has other valuable websites, including a huge online catalog of archive holdings in the United States called the

The website catalogs over 4 million records of archival material in over a thousand archives around the United States. For diligent researchers that look beyond what they can immediately view, the holdings of these archives can become a treasure trove of information and in some cases, may be the link to the only copies of some relevant documents.

Of course, there are many other online portals that collect links to vast collections of documents. In the United States, one significant effort in this regard is the Digital Public Library of America or

For genealogists, in addition to the links to huge numbers of relevant books, documents and other valuable resources, the Digital Public Library of America is partnering with to add access to the over 300,000 digital books in the Book collection.

It is impossible to do more than hint at the huge number of available records in the world. But it is important to understand that although many of these records are not easily researched online, there are a number of very valuable tools for finding those that are not online.

Here are the previous posts in this series.

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