Are you familiar with WorldCat? No? One of my favorite resources, WorldCat is an important tool for genealogy researchers that can make the difference between finding information you need to document your ancestor and coming up short.
WorldCat describes itself as “the world's largest network of library content and services. WorldCat libraries are dedicated to providing access to their resources on the Web, where most people start their search for information.” What’s important for you to know is that WorldCat is the world’s library catalog with 2 billion items from 10,000 libraries.
Two billion items. Don’t assume that means two billion books because it doesn’t. No doubt that would be great but like other library catalogs, it includes periodicals, audio recordings, photographs, thesis/dissertations, archival materials, articles, newspapers, and more. So basically all the materials that we should be searching for when we research our ancestors.
What can you find on WorldCat?:
- Local histories for the place your ancestor lived
- Transcriptions of cemeteries
- Indexes for vital records
- Images of your ancestors hometown
- Family history books
- Dissertations detailing the historical era of your ancestor
- Archival materials that document your ancestor’s membership group
Basically you can find anything having to do with the place, occupation, religion, or events that your ancestor was involved in.
Start using WorldCat by searching your ancestor’s hometown. Now, when I say search by a location that really involves more than one search. So for example, Independence, California is in Inyo County. So I would want to search for “Independence, California” and “Inyo County.” But then I also need to consider regional nicknames for that place which include “Eastern Sierra” and the “Owens Valley.” These searches will help me find records that detail the local history and genealogical records of that area.
Did you notice that I didn’t tell you to search by your ancestor’s name? Why? Because this is a library catalog and not a genealogy database. Genealogy databases are filled with records that are indexed by name, date, and place. Library catalogs are different. So unless your ancestor was famous, infamous or an author, stick to searching by using keywords that describe a place, an occupation, religious affiliation, or an event.
Let me give you an example of why WorldCat is important.
If I do a search on “Snowflake, Arizona” I receive over 500 results. Snowflake is a small town in northern Arizona where my maternal family lived. These results include all kinds of histories including some religious histories that I’ve seen at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.
One of the items found in this search is a genealogical report of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the time period my family, including my maternal grandmother, lived in Snowflake. Notice where this item is located.
Now, let me narrow my search so that I'm just looking at archival materials. This search results in 144 hits including interviews and diaries. One of the more interesting archival materials is bank records covering the years 1890-1909 found at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. None of those diaries or letters appear to be written by someone related to me but because this was a small town, it’s possible they knew my ancestors and mentioned them and would be worth checking into.
So why should you use WorldCat for every research project? WorldCat is where you can identify histories and other materials important to your research. You already know that the FamilySearch Catalog is an essential part of your research. Guess what? FamilySearch’s Catalog is also available in WorldCat. Which for you means that if you find something in the FamilySearch Catalog that is only available onsite at the Family History Library, check WorldCat for the possibility of a closer repository with that same item.
Get Started with WorldCat!
Don’t take my word for it, start using WorldCat now. Conduct a search on the place where your ancestor lived. If too many results appear, narrow it by choosing a specific format (on the left-hand side of the page). See what it can help you identify that you didn’t know about before.