Thursday, August 27, 2015

How Can I Find What Paper or Microform Information is Kept in a Particular Area?

We had our monthly Chula Vista Genealogical Society program yesterday - it was a Problem Solving Panel answering questions submitted by CVGS members - see a summary at CVGS Program Review - Problem Solving Panel on 26 August 2015.

One of the questions submitted was this one: "When I have exhausted available online data, how can I find out what paper or microfiche information is kept in a particular area?"  It wasn't my question to answer, and Shirley did a good job responding in limited time, but my readers may be interested in what I would have said (given enough time):

1)  Published books, especially town, county and state histories, or compiled genealogies and family history books, can be found in local, public, private, county, university,  state, regional or national libraries, plus local or regional historical societies.  Almost every library has an online catalog, and so a searcher can access it online before visiting the repository.  City directories, business directories, telephone books and other directories may be available in these repositories.  A searcher can find out where a specific book is available by using online.

2)  Genealogy and family history periodicals can also be found in all of the libraries and historical societies noted above.  Most genealogy related periodicals have been collected at Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and can be obtained from that library for a fee.  Use the PERiodical Source Index (PERSI) now on to search for pertinent articles.

3)  Unpublished manuscripts and/or paper collections, donated by individuals or organizations, can be found at libraries, state archives, national archives, genealogical societies, or historical societies. Many archived collection are indexed at NUCMC (National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collection - and ArchiveGRID (  

Some libraries, genealogical societies, and historical societies have unindexed paper collections in file cabinets or on shelves that can only be searched by going to the repository.  Local history and genealogy information can usually be found on the county pages at USGenWeb (  In addition, searchers can use the RootsWeb surname or locality message boards ( and mailing lists ( to determine where a local record might be found.  Searchers could request help from genealogical or historical societies, or professional researchers, to obtain these records.

4)  The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has an extensive collection of over 2.5 million microfilms and over 700,000 microfiche sets that have been imaged over the past 100 years or more.  They include user-contributed books and manuscripts, official court and land records, compiled vital record and cemetery books or manuscripts, etc.  You can access the FamilySearch Catalog at  If a collection has been digitized and is available online as a historical record collection, there will be a link to the digitized records.  Microfilms and microfiche setts can be ordered online to be sent to a local FamilySearch Center for a fee.

Note that there are many digitized microfilms available on the FamilySearch Historical Record Collections list ( are not every-name indexed, and therefore cannot be searched for.  Searchers can browse them at home - they are digital microfilm (see Dear Randy: What is the Most Important Skill for Finding Digital Records Online?).

Other large repositories (e.g., New England Historic Genealogical Society) may have a collection of microfilms for popular records in their locale.

5)  Vital Records (births, deaths, marriages) can be obtained at a local, county or state vital records office - see for record availability, access requirements, cost, and where to obtain records for each state.  Searchers can usually request records online, in person, or using a paid researcher.

6)  Official public records such as Court Records (e.g., civil, criminal, family, probate) and Land Records are filed in district or county courts in each state.  Searchers can request these records in person or using a paid researcher.  Check with the Family History Library Catalog first to see if there are microfilm or microfiche records for the record type and period of interest.

7)  The National Archives in Washington DC, and the branches around the country, has a tremendous number of federal records, including presidential, congressional, judicial, census, military, immigration, naturalization, and land.  Visit to see what can be found.  Many National Archives collections have been digitized or are being digitized already and are available online.

8)  State Archives have information pertaining to the public records, maps, books, papers, documents, etc. of the State's history, political history and geography.  See for locations and contact information.

9)  Local business and organization records (e.g., churches, cemeteries, funeral homes, schools, fraternal organizations) may be available in the business or organization offices, or in a local historical society or state archive.  Be sure to check websites,, and the FHL Catalog for these records first.

10)  Newspaper records may be available at local libraries and historical societies in paper format or on microfilm.  There may even be an index for articles available.  Or not.  It is very difficult to find articles or notices in a "cold search" of days and weeks of a newspaper that has not been digitized or indexed.  But sometimes that is the only way to find articles about your ancestral families.  Check Chronicling America ( to determine what newspapers were published in a locality, and check the online newspaper archives list at Wikipedia (

11)  Finally, let's recall the Iceberg chart that indicates that only about 10% of all genealogy records are available on the Internet - the rest are in archives, libraries, courthouses, etc.

Isn't it interesting that we can use online catalogs and websites to help us find genealogy and family history records that are not digitized.  The process of finding records offline has been simplified by having online finding aids to help us.

I'm sure that I've missed some resource types, or glossed over them, in the list above.  What other types of records, and where a searcher can access them, do my readers have to share?

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Jana Iverson Last said...


I'd like to let you know that three of your blog posts are listed in my Fab Finds post at

Have a great weekend!

Hilary Gadsby said...

If anyone needs to find records in the UK then GENUKI is the place to start. The archives sometimes offer research help or may have contact details for researchers who can help you find a record.