Linda Clyde | Jul 28, 2017

An Introduction to ArchiveGrid

This is third in a three-part series that offers tips and tricks to those who are ready to move beyond online research. Read part one and part two.

So, you’ve gotten a little bored with web research and you’re ready to start digging a little deeper? It’s time to get familiar with ArchiveGrid.

This site, recommended by D. Joshua Taylor in his 2017 RootsTech presentation, is a fantastic, free research tool. With more than four million records describing archival materials, it’s the place to go to discover collections large and small, physical locations housing historical documents, personal papers, family histories, and more. It’s a big help for those looking for materials that can only be found in archives, libraries, museums, and historical societies.

Similar to the Online Computer Library Center (a global library cooperative), ArchiveGrid is produced by the same company that produces WorldCat. The difference? WorldCat is typically for books, whereas ArchiveGrid is for manuscripts and archival materials.

ArchiveGrid allows you to search finding aids and catalog descriptions from thousands of repositories across the United States and the world including leading institutions such as Harvard and Yale University. When visiting the site, you won’t find any buttons for family history or genealogy, but because ArchiveGrid currently includes millions of entries, it can still be “an absolute gold mine” for any genealogist. As you begin searching, you’ll discover that many ArchiveGrid categories can be very relevant to your family history and genealogy research.

Where should you start? Well, there are a lot of options. The first thing you’ll want to do is look for archives located around a zip code you’re curious about—for example, your own or that of an ancestor. Below the map on the home page, you’ll see where to enter the zip code. Doing so will bring up your location of interest on the map and show you what archives are available in the area. Click on the red map markers to see archive details. You then have the option of reviewing the collections found at the repository, or you can go ahead and make contact with a local specialist.

Searching

Keep in mind that the site favors broad searches and that you’re searching for collections, not specific details. Archival collections are usually cataloged at an extremely high level, so for example, searching for names of ancestors is unlikely to produce results. Instead, try searching for keywords related to locations, topics, and time periods. Browsing by topics can also be an excellent way to find a variety of content and might even give you more ideas for research. A general keyword search should often include a specific topic and/or location. The following are topics related to family history and genealogy that might turn up results in an ArchiveGrid search:

  • Art
  • Government and law
  • Immigration and expansion
  • Religion
  • Society and culture
  • Transportation and travel
  • War and military
  • Women’s history

The site also offers Boolean search logic, which allows you to use AND, NOT, OR, and parentheses to help you improve your search results.

ArchiveGrid is constantly finding new institutions to participate in the project, and new collections and archives are added on a frequent basis. Follow the ArchiveGrid Blog for updates and other statistics, or just watch the Recent Additions column found on the site’s home page.

Go ahead and give ArchiveGrid a try. Before long you’ll be turning up all kinds of interesting and enlightening treasures—maybe even some that nobody currently living has ever seen.

What other sites do you like? Tweet @RootsTechConf with your suggestions. 

Linda Clyde

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