There are countless resources you can use for your family history or genealogy research, but they are a little tough to track down. Sometimes only a few copies exist, and some are literally one of a kind.
With WorldCat.org, you can search more than 10,000 libraries around the world, all at once, to get closer to filling out the branches of your family tree.
(Disclosure: Thank you to WorldCat.org for sponsoring this post and video. Opinions expressed here are strictly my own.)
Click the play button to watch the video below or keep scrolling to read the post.
What Is WorldCat.org?
WorldCat.org is a free website that features billions of resources including birth and death records, family histories, county histories, city directories, yearbooks, military records, religious records, original documents—basically, if a library catalogs it, you might find it in WorldCat.org.
WorldCat.org has entries for more than 405 million books, 440 million articles, six million maps, and so much more. They’ve even built in a way to help you organize your research plan.
WorldCat.org isn’t a brand new resource, but if you haven’t used it for a while, you’re in for a treat. It’s been completely redesigned, making it much easier to use.
Getting Started with WorldCat.org
The key to good searches in WorldCat.org is to think by topic. One way to start is to search for a surname with the word “family.” If you’re researching a common surname (or one that is giving you lots of non-genealogy results), add a state or country. Here are the results for Ramsey family Pennsylvania:
When you find an interesting title, click on it to get more details. “Show more” will give you more details, and you can even share this result via social media or email it to yourself.
At the bottom of the page will be a list of the libraries where you can find that item. When you click the library, you’ll be taken to that specific entry in their catalog. From there, you can see information about how you might be able to access it. (Tip: Whenever you see something in the Family History Library, be sure to click through—it could be online!)
More Than Family Histories
WorldCat.org is more than just family histories. Think about topics like locations, organizations, churches, and occupations that pertain to your ancestors.
I was researching New Zion Presbyterian Church in Indiana. I did a search for New Zion Presbyterian Indiana, and the first result was for archival material from that church. Clicking “Show more” I can learn more about this resource – including that it has baptisms, marriages, and deaths. That sounds like something I can use!
I can click on the title and see that these materials are held at Hanover College. That is not a place I would have thought to look for them. Clicking on the “Borrow” button takes me directly to that entry in the Hanover College catalog, where I can learn a bit more about it, including a link to an online finding aid.
Not every resource you’ll find on WorldCat.org is online. If what you’re looking for isn’t, you can contact the library to see if they’ll do a look-up (keep your question short and specific!), hire a researcher, or go to that library yourself.
Mix a Broad Topic with a Location
Consider a search with a broad topic, but a specific location. Here, I searched for “Slavery Richmond Virginia.” As I scroll through the results, I see that this entry is marked “Open Access.” That means that it links directly to a digital resource. If I click “Access Free,” it will take me directly in this case to the University of Tennessee, and a digital copy of a letter from someone in Natchez, Mississippi to the Humane Society for the Abolition of Slavery in Richmond, Virginia. Another example of items popping up in unexpected places!
On the results page, you can use the filters on the left to narrow down your results. For example, you could select “Archival Material” and the results will automatically include just that.
Getting Even More Specific
Here’s my ninja tip for getting even more specific results. When you find an entry that’s interesting, click on the title, then click “Show more information.” Look through the list of subject headings and click on the one that is closest to what you’re looking for.
When you click on that subject heading, you’ll get other resources that also use that subject heading. It’s a great way to get really specific with your search.
Creating Lists on WorldCat.org
If you’ve created a free account on WorldCat.org, you can set favorite libraries as well as create lists. These are so handy.
You could create a list for a specific branch of your family or a location that you’re researching in. A list can be private or public. Public lists can be a good way to coordinate with others who you’re researching with. As you find a resource you’re interested in, click the bookmark icon. If you haven’t created a list yet, it will prompt you to start one. Then, just add it to the list. It’s a great way to keep track of all of those wonderful resources you’re finding in WorldCat.org.
You can also find public lists. At the top of the search page, change from “Items” to “Lists,” then enter a keyword. Here’s the result for “genealogy.” When you find one that’s interesting, click to explore the titles. You can even follow someone else’s list.
You can make up to 50 lists, each with up to 500 titles. This makes it handy to make lists based on different branches of your tree or specific topics that you’re exploring.
With more than 10,000 libraries and 405 million books (and more!), you are bound to find lots of resources for your family history and genealogy research using WorldCat.org. Go check out WorldCat.org and create your own free account.