5 Things You Should Be Doing at WorldCat

Show Notes: WorldCat.org just got a facelift. That means it’s time to revisit this library catalog website and do these 5 important things so you can effectively use it for your genealogy research.

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Show Notes: WorldCat

If you are interested in finding out more about your family history and you want to build out your family tree, you are going to need records and resources. That’s exactly what the WorldCat website provides.

WorldCat.org is a free website that provides access through its card catalog to millions of materials from libraries around the world. You’ll find items such as:

  • United States Civil War and other military records
  • Family Bibles, church histories, and records
  • Publications such as directories, handbooks, and magazines
  • Birth, marriage, death, wills, and obituary indexes
  • Microfilmed genealogy and local history collections
  • Newspapers from around the world
  • Photographs
  • Town histories
  • probate records

It’s important to keep in mind that not all libraries participate in WorldCat, and they can participate at different levels. Therefore, you’ll find different amounts of information about these different repositories.

The WorldCat website has received a facelift and now sports a new user interface, making it a great time to get reacquainted with this rich resource. Here are five things you should do right now to take advantage of WorldCat:

#1 Sign up for a free account or transfer your existing account.

To use all the features at WorldCat that we will be discussing you’ll need to have a free user account.

To create your WorldCat account, click the Create an Account link and follow the prompts.

If you already have a WorldCat account you will need to transfer it. Click the Sign In link and follow the prompts for transferring. You can transfer your favorited libraries and lists. However, because of the new website, the following data will not be transferred: profile picture, reviews, saved searches, watched lists, interests, and tags.

Transferring can take quite a while. Leave your browser open until it completes. In fact, when I transferred it never showed complete, so after about an hour I refreshed the page and attempted to sign in again. I was prompted to create a new password, which I did, and was then able to access my account and my transferred data did appear.

Sign into your account whenever you visit the site so that you can take advantages of the many features offered, including our next item, Lists.

#2 Create and Search Lists

Lists are a great way to organize the wide range of resources you can find through WorldCat. I like to create lists for surname and subject research.

How to Create a WorldCat List:

  1. After you run a search you will receive a list of results. Click the List (bookmark) icon on any item
    WorldCat Create a List

    Click the List icon

  2. The add Item to List box will appear. In this box you can add the item to an existing list or click the Create List button to create a new list.
  3. Name the list, enter a description and indicate whether it is public or private.
  4. Click the Create button to save the list.

You can find all your lists by clicking on your account icon (upper right corner on desktop) and select My Lists

In addition to creating your own lists, you can search the public lists of other WorldCat users. Click Lists in the menu to browser popular lists. To search for a list by keyword, go to the search bar and select Lists from the drop-down menu, and search by keyword. When you find a helpful list, click the Follow button.

You can have up to 50 lists with up to 500 items.

#3 Discover Libraries

The best way to discover libraries near you is to add your location. Click the Update Location icon just under your account profile icon. Enter your town or zip code and libraries will be prioritized based on their proximity to you. If you’re going on a research trip, try changing the location to the zip code of the place you are traveling to, and then search for libraries and materials.

To browse libraries near you click Libraries in the menu. Add libraries to your list of favorite libraries by clicking the star icon on the library entry.

You can find your list of favorite libraries by going to the account icon and selecting Favorite Libraries.

#4 Use the Advanced Search Feature

The best way to search for items is to use the Advanced Search feature from the beginning. Click the Advanced Search icon to the right of the search box. (See image below)

WorldCat advanced search

Click the Advanced Search icon next to the search box

Start your search by selecting the type of thing you want to search from the first drop-down menu. For example, select Keyword and then type a word (such as a surname) in the field next to it. To the right of the field, select what you want done with that keyword, AND, OR, or NOT. This will include, exclude or make the keyword options. Then go to the next line and do the same thing. You can set up to three parameters.

Next add a year range if desired. For example, 1900 to 1950. Then select the type of materials you want in the results by clicking Format. For example, you could leave it on All Formats to receive all types of materials or select just Newspapers.

You can also narrow your search by language. Once you’ve made all your selections, click the Search button.

On the results page you have the option to adjust the filters in the left-hand column.

#5 Search Name Variations

As you search for family surnames, it’s important to understand that it will not automatically search for name variations. Either search for variations in separate searches or use the Advanced Search using the OR or the AND feature. (See example below)

Searching for name variations at WorldCat

How to search for name variations at WorldCat

More strategies for getting great search results at WorldCat

Search for family names by entering the family name followed by the word “family” (e.g., “Mansfield family”)

Search for specific people by entering the person’s full name (e.g., “Emily Mansfield”)

Search for organizations by entering terms to describe the organization (e.g., “Lutheran”)

Search for geographic locations by placing name in combination with the abbreviated and full state name (e.g., “Union City IN” and “Union City Indiana”)

You can then narrow your search by returning to the main search page and entering more specific search terms such as “Mansfield family bible”.

Include multiple search terms in one search (e.g., “Lutheran” and “Union City IN”)

Final Thoughts on the New WorldCat

Like with any change to a website, the new WorldCat takes a little getting used to, and there are a few bugs that still need to be worked out. However, by doing these 5 things you’ll have access to millions of rich resources that can help you climb your family tree.

Resources

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Fire, Flood or Earthquake? 5 Tips for Researching Disasters in Your Family History

We have five strategies for researching disasters for family history. They come in response to a listener email about her own “disaster-prone family.” Use these tips to learn about natural or man-made disasters, epidemics, travel accidents, and more that affected your ancestors, and very possibly more about your ancestors role in these events.

View of Eastland taken from Fire Tug in river, showing the hull resting on it’s side on the river bottom. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view with full citation.

It might seem a little sad to search out disasters, epidemics, and accidents in the lives of your ancestors, but it certainly helps us see things in a different light. Genealogy Gems Editor Sunny Morton has shared recently how enthralling it has been for her to dig deeper into her ancestor’s experience of living through the Johnstown Flood. She used many of the tools I write about extensively in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox (Google Books, Google Earth Pro, and even YouTube) to add an amazing amount of meat to the bones of the story.

I also recently received an inspiring letter from Natalie, a Genealogy Gems Premium Member about how researching disasters in her family history turned her into a passionate genealogist. Here’s what she said:

“Dear Lisa and Company,

I just subscribed to your Premium podcast and must say that listening to Premium Podcast episode 143 affirmed that I made an excellent decision!

I also had family members who were in the Johnstown Flood, since that’s where my family initially immigrated. My parents and I were born there and [I] have heard of stories of the Great Flood of 1889 since I can remember. There was a long-standing family story about my 2nd great-aunt, Julia Pfeiffer Rohr, being pulled out of the floodwaters by her hair.

Ironically or not, my ancestors relocated to Chicago a few years after the Johnstown Flood, only to have my maternal grandmother’s sister (who was a few months away from her 19th birthday) killed while aboard the Eastland [steamship in 1915]. Not sure why some families are ‘disaster prone’ through the generations, but ours seems to be one of those.

I learned about the Eastland Disaster as an adult when my mother’s half-sister in Chicago wrote and shared a family history with me. As a Twin Cities journalist, I published an article (click here and go to page 5) in one of the community newspapers about the disaster.

Still, at the time, I found next to nothing on the Eastland, which was both frustrating and puzzling. [Since then,] I’ve done a ton of research on the event and have written larger pieces, including a to-be published book. I didn’t intend to become an expert on a shipping disaster, but that’s what happened. Also, this marked my entrance into the amazing world of family history.”

5 Tips for Researching Disasters in Family History

Learn more about the disasters your own family experienced with these 5 tips that I shared with Natalie in the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 145. Although these tips are for researching the Eastland disaster specifically, you can absolutely put them to work for you!

1. Start with Google. The world’s leading search engine, Google.com can lead to rich resources you may never find in a local library or archive. In the case of the Eastland disaster, a Google search immediately brought up a website dedicated to the event. The casualty list had everyone’s name, age, gender, marital status, ethnicity, and the cemetery in which they were buried.

2. Next, we go to Google Books, where Google takes you deeper and more specifically into historical books. Using the Eastland disaster as our criteria, the first result was a published final report by the American Red Cross’ disaster relief committee on what happened, and how the affected families were helped. Several published histories of the disaster were also listed there. These can be purchased, or you can find copies of them through inter-library loan at your local library. If you just want to see which books in the search results can be read for free, click the Tools button under the search box, and a new menu bar will pop up. Click Any books, then choose Free Google eBooks, like so:

Watch my free video tutorial on finding free e-books on Google. This video is one in a series of tech tip videos available for free at my YouTube channel. Click the Subscribe button while you’re there and you will be notified each time a new genealogy video is published.

3. Keep checking back! New things come online every moment of every day. In 2015, historical video footage about the Eastland disaster was discovered and identified in an online archive (see my blog post about that). But of course it’s impossible to rerun the same searches every day looking for new and updated material. The answer: set up a Google Alert for your search query. That way Google will do the searching for you, and you will receive an email only when Google finds new and updated items that match your search terms. Read my article on How to Set-up Google Alerts for step by step instructions on how to set up your own Google Alerts. Then read How to get the Most out of your Google Alerts for Genealogy.

4. Search YouTube separately. YouTube has several video clips of the Eastland disaster. The Chicago Tribune has wrapped that historical video clip into a short video documentary that includes additional photos their researchers discovered. You’ll also find an animation from the Eastland Disaster Historical Society that recreates what happened and how. Read chapter 14 in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition which is devoted to using YouTube for your genealogy research.

5. Explore Gendisasters.com. This site compiles information on all kinds of tragedies from the past: tornadoes, fires, floods, and buggy-related disasters are just a small sampling of what they cover. You can search by type of disaster, but if you’re not quite sure how it might be filed (like was it a drowning or a ship disaster?), then search by year or place. I looked for Eastland disaster first under ship disasters, and I saw that events are listed alphabetically by place, specifically by city in most cases. There isn’t a way to jump easily to “Chicago,” so I had to scroll through several pages, but I did find it under Chicago, IL Steamer Eastland Disaster, July 1915. Since I already knew the city and date, I could have gotten to it faster by searching under those tabs, but I sure saw just how many events are cataloged at Gendisasters.com. It’s amazing!

Avoid Disaster with the Right Tools

Google Drive and other tipsLastly, some of the disasters you are researching may have a website dedicated to it. The Eastland disaster webpage has several interesting pictures of the ship and the disaster itself. There’s a nice long narrative about the tragedy and some transcribed newspaper articles, as well.

Researching disasters for family history can be exciting and enjoyable. The world wide web is truly like a time machine. See what other ways you can use Google for genealogy in my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. Effective Google searches, Google Earth, Google Alerts, and Google Translate are just the tip of the iceberg! You will become a Google guru in no time.

5 Top Tips for Searching at Newspaper.com

5 top tips newspaper research for genealogy

Learn how to find more about your family history in old newspapers at Newspapers.com. In this video Jenny Ashcraft from Newspapers.com joins me. She will share not only her 5 best search strategies, but also some amazing stories and items she’s found that will inspire you!

Show Notes 

Download the ad-free show notes (Premium Member log in required. Not a Premium Member? Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member.)

Limited time offer: use the code “genealogygems” at checkout at Newspapers.com to get 20% off today.

Vital records like birth, marriage and death records are critical for family history research. But newspapers can also provide the stories and the context that helps bring your ancestors experiences to life. Here’s my interview with Jenny Ashcraft from newspapers.com.  (Please note: This interview transcription has been minimally altered for ease of reading and clarity.)

Types of Information Found in Old Newspapers

Lisa: Newspapers can require a bit more effort to search than other genealogical records. Before we jump into your search strategies, why you think that newspapers are worth the effort?

Jenny: Newspapers really were the social media of their day. They were the number one source for news.

When the civil war started, people found out through the newspapers. When a huge 1859 solar storm hit planet earth, nobody had any idea why the sky was filled with colorful auroras so bright that the middle of the night turned bright as day, until they read the newspaper. And newspapers reported on local news, like who was visiting from out of town and who was on the sick list. They reported on tragic accidents and deaths and births and marriages and family reunions. Newspapers provide details about your family history. That for me brings such a sense of gratitude. I have learned things about my ancestors through newspapers.com that just amaze me. I stand in awe of the challenges they faced and each time I search, I’m reminded that I drink every day from a well that I did not dig.

Genealogy Gems Found in Newspapers

(2:00) Lisa: That’s so true. I bet you found a lot of gems in your job, which is probably just a dream job for most genealogists, working at newspapers.com. What kinds of things have you found?

Jenny: You’re right, it is kind of a dream job. It’s so fun. Let me share a quick personal story.

My third great grandfather and his brother immigrated to the United States in 1866. They were just 16 and 20 years old. As they were boarding their ship in Germany, the first ship became overcrowded, and hey ushered some of the passengers onto a second ship. In that chaos, these two brothers became separated and ended up on different ships. They would not see each other again for years.

Carl Fink arrived here in the United States alone at just 16 years old. He made his way to Illinois, where he eventually became a farmer. He got married, he had nine children, and I just learned a lot about his life through newspaper articles. He died in 1918. But I had never seen a photograph of him. I have searched newspapers.com, and I thought I had seen every available story about Karl Fink. But one day I came across a photograph, and it was printed in a 1966 paper, nearly 50 years after his death. The photo was originally taken in 1885, and it shows Carl Fink and his four oldest sons with their horses. It was published under a headline Sketches from Yesterday. Well, you can just imagine what an absolute thrill to find the only photograph that I have ever seen of this ancestor!

Newspaper article

The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Illinois, 28 Mar 1966, Mon., Page 4

Lisa: That’s amazing! Oh my gosh, you must have been doing a genealogy happy dance all over your house!

Top Strategies for Searching at Newspapers.com

(4:02) You have whetted our appetites! I’d love to hear what some of your best strategies that you use when you’re doing your newspaper research.

Jenny: Well, I think the best thing to do is just start on the homepage. Type your ancestors name in the search box.

Tip #1: Search Name Variations

One thing you have to remember is to use the name as it would have appeared in the newspaper. If your ancestor was named, let’s say Charles Ellis Roper, he may be referred to as:

  • Chas. Roper
  • Roper
  • Ellis Roper

Try all kinds of variations until you find success.

Tip #2: Narrow Results by Location

Next, try to narrow your results by location. Did Charles live in South Carolina? You can narrow the results by the state, the county, the city, even a specific newspaper and you can also filter those results by dates.

Once you have found your ancestor, then the magic begins. The connections just start to flow. Back then families tended to stick together. So, you will often find relatives living nearby.

Tip #3: Search for Female Ancestors

Newspapers are a great way also do identify our female ancestors. As genealogist know, researching women can be hard! They were often referred to by their husband’s names, like in this particular clipping about Mrs. Mitchell and Mrs. John Weamer.

Newspaper article: Mary Miller Mitchell

The Indiana Progress, Indiana, Pennsylvania, 23 Mar 1876, Thu, Page 13

 

But you know, through my research, I have learned that Mrs. Mary Mitchell is really my direct ancestor who was Mary Miller, she married James Mitchell. In this clipping we learned that she died in the home of her sister, Mrs. John Weamer. Well, I know that this is Martha Miller Weamer, my third great aunt.

Tip #4: Search the Obituary and Wedding Indexes

One of the most amazing ways to learn about our ancestors is through obituaries and wedding announcements. Using machine learning algorithms, Newspapers.com has developed a technology to identify 250 million obituaries, and 67 million marriage announcements in our archives. You may have seen hints for these on your ancestor trees. You can now go to Newspapers.com and search for all of your ancestors in either the obituary index, or the wedding index.

These records are full of wonderful family details and relationships. Let me just show you how this works.

For example, that newspaper clipping talked about Mrs. John Weamer. Well, I know that Mrs. John Weamer is my third great aunt, who was Martha Miller Weamer. So, I want to go to the obituary index and search for Martha.

To do that, I just typed in her name to see what I could find. I came up with 16,000 results. Now that’s going to take some time to go through. But one thing so cool is that we can click on the Result Type filter below the search box and click on Obituaries. Now I’m in the obituary index, and it looks like I got four results. In this case, the dates of the articles are all the same. I found four obituaries for my ancestor Martha Weamer!

Lisa: Fantastic. And can you also click on the map? Will that also narrow the location?

Jenny: Yes. When I first came up with those results for Martha Weamer there’s also a map of the United States.  On the map, you will see that there’s different shades of pinks, and reds. This means that the lighter color states has articles mentioning Martha Weamer but maybe a fewer number. In this case there were five in Colorado, and nine in Wyoming. Well, Martha is from Pennsylvania. When I over hover Pennsylvania it tells me that there are 5000 mentions of Martha Weamer. So that state of Pennsylvania has been highlighted as red to show you that there’s a concentration of her name found in newspapers in Pennsylvania.

Lisa: That’s really handy. And it’s also handy if by chance she was from another state originally or had a lot of family in another state because then you there’s a possibility that her obituary could be shared in a newspaper from her previous hometown.

Jenny: That happened all the time. And as a matter of fact, on this woman, Martha Weamer, she actually moved from Pennsylvania to Idaho. And when she died, these obituaries were printed in the Pennsylvania paper where she came from and not in the Idaho papers.

Tip #5: Search for Emigration Details

(9:41) Lisa: One of the things that folks often have trouble with is passenger lists immigration information. Newspapers could be a source for that too, could it not?

Jenny: Absolutely! Newspapers is a great source for that. You know before air travel became more common in the 1950s, ships were the primary mode of intercontinental travel. And one of the most important records we know for tracking our immigrant ancestor is a passenger list. Well, passenger lists include things like the name, their origin, where the voyage originated, a passenger’s birth date, departure date, and arrival date. What is so cool is that you can take those details that you find on a passenger list over to Newspapers.com and learn all types of insights about their journey.

For example, what if you wanted to know Why did my ancestor emigrate? What caused them to come? Well, a search of newspapers might provide insights into events that led to your ancestor’s emigration.  For example, if you look in our Irish newspapers, in the 1840s, you’re going to find heartbreaking stories about the potato famine. I found a clipping reporting in a specific parish the number of deaths in that parish. It says, “number of seen to be known to be occasioned by the famine, about 200. And several instances have occurred in this parish, where almost all the members of families being carried off from the effects of the famine.” So, this can help you understand why your ancestor may have chosen to emigrate to begin with.

Newspaper Artice: Potato famine claims lives in Ireland

The Freeman’s Journal Dublin, Ireland, 27 Apr 1847, Tue page 4

Lisa: Absolutely! I’ve even had success using the name of the ship and searching for that. The article may not mention my ancestor specifically, but I could find information potentially, about the voyage.

Jenny: You absolutely can. I also love when I have the name of the ship, which is on the passenger list, and I can take that information and the coordinating dates, and start searching for that ship. What was the voyage like? Were there rough seas? Did people die during the journey? Newspapers would often report on conditions of the passage, illness on the ship, weather, and deaths.

Occasionally, we might even find dramatic stories. One of them that comes to mind was the Ocean Monarch. The Ocean Monarch was an immigrant ship that departed from Liverpool in 1848 bound for Boston. During the journey a fire broke out on the ship, and it just started to engulf the ship. The passengers jumped into the ocean, and 180 of them perished. The newspapers are just filled with dramatic survivor accounts. And some of them just broke my heart. I remember reading one about a mother who was clinging to her little baby, hanging onto some debris, as the ship is burning beside her. A wave crested over and she lost grip of the baby and lost the baby into the waves. Talk about bringing a story to life! If this is your ancestor, you can kind of get an understanding of what their experiences were during that voyage.

Lisa: Amazing. Newspapers really are one-of-a-kind sorts of records, aren’t they?

Jenny: They really are because you’re not going to find those kinds of details in a passenger list. They are not going to have interviews with somebody that just landed on the shores, or they’re not going to describe a joyful reunion between a brother and sister. I just read an immigration article just the other day where a brother and a sister reunited in New Orleans. They hadn’t seen each other for 12 years! It describes this joyful reunion and they didn’t recognize each other because it had been so long. These are just wonderful, rich stories that can really help you put together your ancestor’s story.

Lisa: And we could find newspaper articles at the port of arrival as well, couldn’t we?

Jenny: Oh, that is such a great tip. Let’s just think of an example here. If you had an ancestor that arrived in New York City in August of 1906, and you went to the New York papers, you will learn that the city was experiencing a terrible heatwave. It was like 106 degrees. And the New York Tribune reported that there were ships that arrived at Ellis Island. They arrived on a Sunday and Ellis Island port of arrival was closed. So, the passengers had to wait in the sweltering holds of the ship and wait for Ellis Island to open. The paper reported that by the time that Ellis Island reopened the following day, these mothers and children were disembarking and coming out of the holes of the ship and collapsing in the heat. Now, if this is your ancestor, you suddenly have this whole story and narrative. You connect, and you realize the sacrifices and what these immigrant ancestors endured to come and emigrate, and now we stand on their shoulders.

newspaper article Ellis Island Heat Wave

New-York Tribune New York, New York, 07 Aug 1906, Tue • Page 2

(15:54) Lisa: You’re right, where else would you hear that!

Well, I know that you write for Newspapers.com and you help people use the website and learn more about these kinds of stories. Where can folks find you?

Jenny: You can check out our blog, which is called Fish Wrap. If you Google fish wrap, you will find our blog. We try to fill that blog with amazing tips and stories, and things that would be interesting for people who are learning to use newspapers or experienced newspaper users.

Lisa: And everybody can become an experienced newspaper user because you guys have a free trial, is that right? So, they can just go in and sign up for an account and use it for seven days for free?

Jenny: Absolutely. You can sign up for a seven day trial. Check it out, see if you can find your ancestor.  See if you can locate some of those gems that will help you break through those genealogical roadblocks. This is a great way to enrich the story that you’re trying to tell with your vital records.

Learn More about Using Newspapers.com with Lisa

 I hope that whetted your appetite for using old newspapers for finding your family history. The next step is to join me for a special deep dive into using the website. Genealogy Gems Premium Members can join me for a special live show, which includes the live chat, on February 3, 2022 at 11:00 am CT. It will be followed up by a video replay that members can watch on demand. Look for more details in our next newsletter.

premium session

If you’re not a premium member yet, oh my gosh, what are you waiting for? I hope you’ll join us. Just click here to learn more about what we have to offer. It is a full year’s access to all the premium content.

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