Monday, March 5, 2007

Using the Card Catalog

While searching for information about the Bresee (and surname variants) family in New York, I used the card catalog at

I was looking for specific databases in Columbia County NY that might hold records of the family. In the Card Catalog search form for "Databases", I input

"columbia county" "new york"

I got a list of 5 databases:

1) Chatham & Hudson Monthly Meeting, Columbia County, New York: Quaker Records

2) Calendar of wills of Columbia County, New York

3) Gravestone inscriptions of Columbia County, New York,

4) Inscriptions from graveyards in the northern part of Columbia County, New York.

5) The Benjamin families from Columbia County, New York

I searched each of those references for my surname search terms - "Bres*", "Brees*", Bries*", Bras*", "Braz*", "Bris*", "Bros*" and "Brus*".

There were two hits - one for a "Bristol" name, and the other for a will abstract of Andries H. Bresee (interesting! but not useful except to eliminate him as a potential father of Cornelia). At least the wild card search works!

I realized that my search terms may have been too limiting - so I used the "Keyword" search box for "Columbia County" "New York".

The results gave me 30 databases - including the five above. The most interesting were several small church cemetery databases that did not have "Columbia county" in the database title, but did have it in the text.

Unfortunately, there were no useful hits there either!

Then I realized that perhaps the term "New York" might not be in the database title or in the text - perhaps "ny" or "n.y." would find different databases.

Using "columbia county" "ny" in the Database Title got zero hits. Using "Columbia county" "n.y." gave me two graveyard databases that were in the list of 30. Similar results were achieved when I put the terms "columbia county" "n.y." in the Keyword search - I got 9 hits, all of which were in the list of 30.

Some of you may be thinking "why didn't you just put a Keyword of bres* in the 'Stories and Publications' on the main Ancestry page?" The problem is that there are too many hits - over 207,000 in the "Periodicals and Newspapers" collection, and 9,262 in the "Family and Local Histories" collection. Using a Keyword of "bresee" still resulted in 240 hits. That illustrates why I limited my search to Columbia County, New York! Now I need to do the same thing for Rensselaer County NY.

Someone might think "why didn't he use the Keywords of bresee "columbia county" and limit the search to the US/New York?" When I do that, I get 550 hits in "Periodicals and Newspapers" and zero hits in "Family and Local Histories." That is strange...but it shows that you can't combine surnames and locations in the Keyword box of "Stories and Publications" for some reason.

Based on the above sequence of events, and learning what I learned about the keywords, my recommendation for the folks is to enable a surname search in all of the databases that come up in a locality search. That would reduce the number of overall surname hits to a manageable number in the locality of interest.

Of course, I searched only one of my 16 databases - the books library. There are many more searches to be done and reported on.

I know this post has been pretty much "Inside Genealogy" stuff, but if it helps someone else do an effective search then it is worth it.

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