Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The FamilySearch Catalog, WorldCat and ArchiveGrid -- Part One


I have had several people I talked to lately who were only slightly familiar with the website that commented that they had never looked at the Catalog and did not know what it was. But I also had others who had been working on the website for some time who had never looked at the Catalog. The FamilySearch Catalog is the heart of the website. It is found in as a dropdown menu item in the "Search" menu at the top of the startup page.

The FamilySearch Catalog primarily contains a listing of the holdings of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah but also has listings of the contents of the Brigham Young University Family History Library and many other Family History Centers and Libraries around the world. When you look up an item in the Catalog, you can see a dropdown menu of the locations where any item can be located. Here is a screen shot showing the location of the dropdown menu for any item in the Catalog.

This dropdown menu allows you to search the holdings of any of the locations listed. When you locate an item you are interested in, there is another dropdown menu showing you which centers and libraries have that particular item.

The holdings of the various libraries are constantly changing and therefore the Catalog is constantly changing. There is always a lag time between when items are acquired and when they are cataloged and added to the website.

The items listed in the catalog include books, manuscripts, unpublished written collections, diaries, Bible records, documents of all kinds, maps, and tens of thousands of other resources for doing genealogical research. Here is a screenshot of the Catalog startup and search page.

You can see that there are two reference links on the righthand side of the page to the OCLC WorldCat catalog and the ArchiveGrid. For some time now, the FamilySearch Catalog has been integrating its holdings with these two extremely large online catalogs. Presently, nearly all of the entries in the FamilySearch Catalog will also show up on the website. I will delve into these other two catalog resources further on in this explanation.

As you can further see from the startup/search page, the Catalog is organized and searchable in different categories. You can search by place, surnames, titles, author, subjects or keywords. All library catalogs are somewhat arbitrary. Most of the cataloged items in the online Catalog are physically maintained and organized according to a modified Dewey Decimal System of classification. For these items, the Catalog fulfills its traditional function of a finding aid for physically locating items in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. But the Catalog is now a tremendously more powerful research aid and tool and goes far beyond the physical collection of materials in the Salt Lake Family History Library.  

One of the first things to realize about the Catalog is that it also contains links and references to the digitized, online collections of records being converted from paper and microfilm in the Family History Library. Here is a screenshot showing a link to a digitized collection.

As items are being digitized, in many cases, the physical copies of the items are being removed from the shelves of the Family History Library (and some of the other libraries) and archived. Access to the digitized items may be generally available from any computer that can access, but in some cases, the distribution of the items is limited to access within the Family History Library or other libraries and centers.

To summarize, the Catalog has multiple functions as follows:

  • The Catalog acts as a physical finding aid for items in the various participating centers and libraries
  • The Catalog has links to many of the digitized items in the Family History Library and online on the website
  • The Catalog acts as a finding aid for discovering the types of records that may be used in genealogical research
  • The Catalog assists in location records by geographic subdivision and acts, in part, as a gazetteer of geographic jurisdictional subdivisions around the world.  

This is the first part of a series of articles describing the FamilySearch Catalog and its function. The Series will also include a description of both the website and catalog and the ArchiveGrid website.

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