Archives and Libraries: Successful research onsite or online

Dayna Jacobs, AG®

You are welcome to copy this for personal use or post links to it online. If you print and distribute it to others or publish it online please credit On Granny’s Trail website.

What is the difference between an archive and a library?

  • Archives
    • Original records: Photos, journals, letters, artifacts, documents
    • Organized differently than libraries
    • Use finding aids to locate records
    • Most of the collection is kept out of view of the public
    • Records kept for long or short periods
    • Stricter rules to access materials
    • Manuscript collections
    • Digitized collections
  • Libraries
    • Derivative or compiled sources: Books, periodicals, clipping files, microfilm
    • Organized alphabetically, by the Dewey Decimal System, or unique to the library
    • Easier to find and search materials – use the card catalog
    • Collections are in library stacks that can be browsed and viewed by the public
    • Published records
    • Books, microfilms, maps
    • Manuscript collections
    • Digitized collections

Where can I find archives and libraries?

  • Determine what kind of record you are trying to find, and what kind of repository would house it
    • Federal
    • State or territorial
    • Local
    • Specialized
    • Original or derivative
  • Google search
    • State and national archives
    • Corporate archives
    • Local libraries
  • WorldCat and ArchiveGrid – Search using a zipcode to find repositories in a geographic area
  • Linkpendium – U.S. archives and libraries organized by locality
  • Repositories of Primary Sources – Links to over 5,000 worldwide archives, organized by locality
  • LibWeb – Over 8,000 pages for libraries in 146 countries

 How can I find out what is in their collections?

  • Search the digital portal for digitized collections
  • Search the online catalog for records available online using:
    • Surname
    • Locality
    • Friends, associates, neighbors, in-laws, business partners
    • Occupations
    • Subjects (such as religion, ethnic group, or record group)
  • Get help from an archivist or librarian, online or in person

How can I access a record?

  • Was it digitized somewhere else?
    • Google
    • Internet Archive
    • WorldCat – filter by eBook or downloadable archival material
    • FamilySearch, Ancestry, MyHeritage, etc.
  • Is it available through inter-library loan?
    • Contact the repository to see if they loan materials
    • Contact your local public or academic library to initiate the loan
  • Write and request a copy
    • Call first and see what they require
    • Include payment and a SASE
  • Hire a researcher
    • Contact the repository for a list of researchers
    • Contact a local genealogy society
    • Find an accredited or certified genealogist
  • Visit the archive or library
    • Print out the source reference
    • Use the online catalog to prepare a “to do” list
    • Look up library hours and holidays
    • Bring I.D., camera, pencil, research log, flash drive
    • Be prepared for the use of electronic equipment, but also no electronic equipment

Additional Help

  • Google search for “Primary source tutorial”
  • Find a guidebook for the repository
    • On their website
    • FHL microfilm
    • Google or WorldCat
    • Send for one
  • Printed catalogs are available for archives and record collections
  • Consult the reference book area of a genealogical library
  • Digital versions of Red Book and The Source on Family History Wiki
  • FamilySearch Family History Research Wiki
The ICAPGen ℠ service mark and the Accredited Genealogist® and AG® registered marks are the sole property of the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists.  All Rights Reserved.

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