Much has been said about the majority of historical
and genealogical records being unavailable online.
FamilySearch estimates that at least 90% of records are not available in a digital format. So how does a genealogist find
and take advantage of the vast collections of paper records? One way is through
the use of Genealogists.com to find the hardcopy records in the world’s numerous archives and repositories. Another way is through online finding aids. This article discusses the latter.
have been archives. A finding aid is a document that allows a researcher to
find detailed information about a collection of records. Finding aids can take
many forms. They can be as simple as a single page spreadsheet or as
comprehensive as a website.
aid. Nowadays, most libraries have their catalogs published online. While library
catalogs focus on locating a specific book, finding aids direct researchers to
specific collections within the larger archive. For example, the Massachusetts
Historical Society houses several collections including the Adams Family
Papers. Their website contains an online findingaid (or collection guide) that describes the complete Adams Family Papers.
The collection includes diaries, letters of John, Abigail and several of their
children as well as other miscellany like poetry and account books.
finding aid contains some or all of the following parts:
- Overview of the collection
- Biographical or historical information about the
- Scope and Contents of the collection
- Relevant information on the materials in the
- Search terms or subject headings related to the
- Content List (How the collection is stored and what it contains)
While many of the typical online records (used for
genealogy) can provide a basic framework (such as census records, vital
records, etc.) for our ancestors’ lives, archival collections may unlock our
ancestors’ individual stories.
The Library of Congress has hundreds of unique
collections listed on their website. Each collection has an online finding aid.
One collection is the “Louise
Bates Ames papers, 1815-1996.” According to this finding aid, Louise was a
child psychologist and educator. Her papers include diaries, photographs, and
newspaper clippings. There are 52 boxes of materials. The collection has also
been indexed; two of the indexed people are Dr. Benjamin Spock and Margaret
who knew someone famous, or perhaps served in a military unit led by someone
noteworthy. The possibilities are endless! The Library of Congress is just one
of hundreds of archives in the United States that publishes online finding aids
to their collections.
The National Archives is another example of an archive
with great online finding aids. Always check the archives in the regions near
where your ancestors lived, keeping in mind that sometimes, manuscripts end up
where you least expect them.
When you examine an archive’s online finding aids and locate an intriguing box or diary in a special collection, notify Genealogists.com and their researchers will obtain the record for you. Remember that Genealogists.com has researchers who work in the numerous archives and repositories located around the
country and can access and send you the desired records.
by Deborah Sweeney © 2015, Genealogists.com, All rights reserved