ArchiveGrid. Have you used this worldwide archive catalog? If you haven’t, you’ll want to start. ArchiveGrid provides a way for you to search for archival materials for your family history no matter where in the world your ancestors came from. ArchiveGrid is a must-have resource for genealogists and with a few tips on how to use the website, you will find genealogically relevant collections in archives worldwide.
What is Available on ArchiveGrid?
First it’s important to understand what’s available on ArchiveGrid. ArchiveGrid’s website explain that it has “over 5 million records describing archival materials, bringing together information about historical documents, personal papers, family histories, and more.”
Archive collections tend to be underutilized in family history research. Why? Primarily because it involves onsite research. These are collections that cannot be searched with a few words in an online database search box. But the treasures they hold are integral to an exhaustive search and can include facts that place your ancestor in a time and location.
Crafting a Keyword Search
The most important thing to remember about searching ArchiveGrid is that it’s done with a keyword search. Unlike a genealogy website where information is largely indexed by an ancestors’ name, date, and place, ArchiveGrid is cataloged by a keyword.
So what’s a keyword? It’s a word or phrase that you use to search for information for your ancestor. So consider these descriptions:
- Where they lived
- Their religion
- The organizations they belonged to
- An occupation and/or employer
- An historical event they were a part of
Searching by place should be an important part of your search, so let me explain that a little more. Think about where your ancestor lived. Maybe they lived in Bishop, California. That’s one way to describe that place, by city and state. But you could also call it Inyo County, California. That area also has a regional nickname so you could describe it as the Owens Valley or the Eastern Sierra. As I craft my search I would want to try various searches using each of those location names.
Narrowing Your Search
When I searched ArchiveGrid for “Owens Valley, California” I received over 900 result hits. I can look at these results hits in a List View or a Summary View. The List View is just that, a list of the results. The Summary View groups hits by category, allowing me to narrow those results. These categories are People, Group, Place, Archives, Archive Locations, and Topics. If I’m planning a research trip, I might want to choose the category Archive Locations to just see the results for that location I’m traveling to. These categories can help narrow a general result list like Methodist Church to a specific archive or location to help you find relevant church records
To learn more about broadening or narrowing a search see the ArchiveGrid web page, How to Search.
On-Site Research Versus Researching from Home
ArchiveGrid is an important tool to learn more about what sources are out there and what is available when you plan a research trip. When we consider expanding our research to include our ancestor’s FAN Club (friends, associates, and neighbors) searching ArchiveGrid by the place our ancestor lived will help us locate materials written by those people and groups in our ancestor’s community that they interacted with or were a part of.
By conducting a search on ArchiveGrid you can find extant records. In some cases these materials, while about a specific place, may be located in an entirely different place. Archival materials aren't always donated to repositories in the location they originated.
As you find relevant information, be sure to click on the green Read More button for that collection. This will help you evaluate whether that material is pertinent to your research. From there, you may consider emailing the repository to ask questions. If the collection is far from you, consider either hiring a researcher or making the trip to view it.
If you are already planning a trip, make sure you learn about what is available in the archives where you are headed. This can be done via the Summary View on ArchiveGrid, as described above, or by searching a specific archive from the home page. While ArchiveGrid is a catalog of a 1,000 archives worldwide it does not house every archival collection. However, the catalog is being added to so it’s important to check back often.
Incorporate Archives in Your Family History
Archives hold valuable records that can help you break through those ancestral brick walls. ArchiveGrid is just one way to find those records.