By Alexandra Mendez-Diez
The digital age has certainly made genealogical research a whole lot easier. Of course, even with today’s seamless access to troves of information there are still some resources out there that simply require a real, live visit to an archive or library.
Maybe you are excited by the thought of taking your research to the next level by starting an in-person, and off-line, exploration of your genealogical heritage, but aren’t sure exactly how or where to get started. Or maybe you’re planning to travel to a particular archive or library but are wanting to maximize your time away from home by adding a few more stops to the list.
Whatever phase you’re in, get pointed in the right direction – and minimize wasting precious time once you arrive at your destination – by taking advantage of ArchiveGrid.
What Is ArchiveGrid?
Unlike many of the resources we cover here on Family History Daily, such as these free US state genealogy resources, ArchiveGrid does not provide direct access to records online. Instead, it is a catalog of catalogs, documenting the primary sources being held at over 1,000 archival institutions. Institutions choose to upload their catalog of items to ArchiveGrid or their parent organization, WorldCat (which includes all kinds of library catalogs, not just those for primary sources).
The 5 million records held in ArchiveGrid’s catalog represents primary source material, such as photographs, family histories and personal papers, being held in historical societies, libraries, archives and museums around the world.
If you’re looking for a specific family history book or collection of records, ArchiveGrid will help you find it. You can also use ArchiveGrid to search out primary sources that are most relevant to what you are looking for. These searches will help you determine which archives are worth planning a visit to and help you make a plan of attack for your on-site research before you have even arrived.
How Do You Use ArchiveGrid?
There are several different ways to use ArchiveGrid. At its core it’s an in-depth library catalog so it can feel a little bit intimidating at first. However, with this guide, you’ll find that the resource is actually extremely simple to use.
If you know the title or topic of the resource you need (such as vital records for Jefferson County, KY or the Oral History Interviews of the Rondo Oral History Project) you can enter it into the search in the upper right hand corner and find the offline genealogy resource you are looking for in less than a minute. It’s very convenient.
You can easily locate family papers and pedigrees. birth, death, marriage, and burial record collections, oral and local histories and much more.
But this is not the only way to use the site. Below I will explain how to explore archives by location and how to take advantage of advanced search techniques to find just what you are looking for.
When you open up the ArchiveGrid homepage, to the upper left, you’ll see a tool that uses Google Maps. The default is set to Columbus, Ohio. Look at all of the archives you can access in Columbus that are just a short drive away!
Here’s the part that you should go ahead and try out right away:
The map can be searched either by using the cursor to move through different locations, or you can enter a zip code in the text box below the map.
Why don’t you enter yours and see what archives are near you?
I live in New York City and entering a local zip code yields a lot of archives that I can get to with just a short subway ride. When I click on a marker for an archive it will tell me the name of the archive and present a button with which I can view the archive’s catalog, as well as find contact information for the archive.
The contact information is important, as you’ll need to get in touch with the institution to find out if its collections are open to the public, or if you’ll need to make an appointment or receive special permission.
Below the map is a list of places, clicking on each one will allow you to view the archives that are included in ArchiveGrid’s records, and provides a link that will go to the archive’s marker on the back with the catalog and contact info buttons.
The largest number of archives are located within the United States. However, Canada and Australia also have a significant number of archive catalogs uploaded, as do a wide array of other countries.
If you’re not sure where to look, starting with a location can be a great idea. Check out what archives are available where your ancestors lived and poke around to see if there’s likely to be anything useful to your research. Even if you cannot travel to that location you may discover that a related archive allows you to request remote searches for a reasonable fee or offers some of their records (or indexes of them) online. You may also be able to get someone to search the archive for you via a service like Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness.
How to Conduct a Deeper Search with Keywords
As mentioned, you can also search ArchiveGrid by topic or resource title, rather than location. This will be very helpful when you want to find the nearest location of a specific resource or determine where a certain record collection may be held – or when you simply want to discover new family history records related to your research.
ArchiveGrid is not as user-friendly as some other research services and instead assumes that users are familiar with conducting more sophisticated computer searches. Put simply, it uses Boolean Logic, which is a simple language that allows you to set the parameters for your search.
The idea of learning a new language might seem daunting, but you’ll only have to use three words that you are already familiar with and a few punctuation marks. It will be the easiest language you ever learned!
Boolean Search Terms
AND, OR, NOT () “” and ~
That’s it. Now let’s take a look at how to use them.
AND: Connect the Dots
Let’s say you had a relative whose marriage certificate you are trying to track down and who was married in Philadelphia. You’ll want to see marriage certificates directly related to Philadelphia.
Enter: Philadelphia AND marriage certificates into to the search box.
Rather than having to search each archive in Pennsylvania for marriage certificates, you’ll be presented with a list of all of the records that include both of those terms.
OR: Broaden the Search
If you have some extremely specific terms to search, why not include both in a single search?
Perhaps there is a person with a not-so-common name connected with a town that also has a one-of-a-kind name. For example: let’s say you had a relative who lived in Idahome, Idaho, who you believed to have been photographed by Milnor Roberts.
Try this search: Idahome OR “Milnor Roberts”
” “: Be Specific
Why did I use the quotation marks around Milnor? Those punctuation marks will only return results that are exactly as they appear between the quotation marks. Otherwise, you’ll end up with the search results returning all results that contain either Milnor or Roberts, and Roberts will yield a lot of results!
NOT: Limit the Search
Sometimes when you use a search term, the most common results will be related to something you’re not interested in. Let’s say you were looking for information about boatbuilding in Belfast, but all you ever find concerns the Titanic, and that’s not relevant.
Try: (boatbuilding AND Belfast) NOT Titanic
(): The Order of Operations
Those parentheses allow you to use two different Boolean terms in the same search, and will let you set which limit goes with which term.
Because I put the parentheses around boatbuilding AND Belfast I told ArchiveGrid that I wanted those two terms connected first, and once all of the items with both of those terms had been gathered the search would then eliminate items that mentioned Titanic.
~: Find Terms Near Each Other
When you’re conducting Boolean logic searches, quotation marks are one of the most useful features. It will allow you to connect two words that are always connected. Want to find records from Crested Butte? Just enter “Crested Butte” and you won’t get back every single record with either Crested or Butte in it.
But what if there are two words that are used close to each other, but won’t necessarily be next to each other, is there any way to still directly connect them in your search?
Using the ~ symbol and the quotation marks, you can set a search to have the two words be anywhere from 1-4 words away from each other. For example, if you have a relative with a couple of extremely common middle names that sometimes appear as initials, this is a great technique. In this instance, Solomon James Smith Dürer becomes: “Solomon Dürer”~2 – where the ~2 tells the search to look for Soloman and Dürer within 4 words of each other.
But remember, you are not searching records on ArchiveGrid. You are searching collection titles and descriptions. You will not find your ancestor by name unless they are mentioned in the descriptive information about the collection (or book). Instead, you will generally use ArchiveGrid to search for resources your ancestors may be found in.
You can also conduct searches based on metadata. For example, you could search out certain types of documents, like limiting your search to recorded audio files. You can find more information about how to do that on this page.
Admittedly these types of searches are a bit more complex but, with a little effort and some time, you may find the results are more than worth the trouble!
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About the Author: Though Alexandra Mendez-Diez has not invested a great deal of time into researching her own genealogy, on her father’s side, a few well-placed phone calls to Miami once led to her discovering and meeting long-lost teenage second cousin twins in Havana. And while she would like to look further into the less common spelling of her second apellido to find out if it is as she suspects a direct link to Sephardic Jews from Spain, she’s been much more preoccupied with researching the genealogy of James Joyce’s fictional character Molly Bloom from Ulysses. This has taken her to Granada in the South of Spain, where she spent several months sorting through early 20th century hand-written court archives in search of Molly Bloom’s mother, a woman who never lived (hazard of being fictional), but could have.