I LOVE research. Whether it's studying a specific aspect of food history or learning more about 19th century divorce in the United States, I love to read, learn, and find information. Because I research every day, I find a lot of information I'm interested in. While there are any number of websites that allow you to bookmark, upload, or store your research finds in the cloud, some websites have solutions that work just for their website. One such tool is the My Lists feature on the Digital Public Library of America.
Have you used the website Digital Public Library of America for your genealogy? What does this collaborative catalog of digitized “images, texts, videos, and sounds” have to do with genealogy? Everything! Genealogy research is about finding records that document our ancestor’s lives and DPLA provides access to “photographs, books, maps, news footage, oral histories, personal letters, museum objects, artwork, government documents, and so much more.”
What is DPLA?
Let’s start with focusing on what DPLA is not. It is not a single repository of digitized items. DPLA does not have a brick and mortar building housing archived items. Instead, it is a collaborative catalog giving you access to digitized content from repositories across the United States. Think of it like a finding aid or catalog of materials. Best of all, DPLA is absolutely free. There is no library card or subscription price to use it. Once you conduct your search you can explore the individual items of interest and click a link to go straight to the appropriate archive, library, or museum where you can learn more about the item (including any copyright or publishing limitations) and download it.
DPLA utilizes a keyword search. That doesn’t mean you can’t search using your ancestor’s name but this isn’t a genealogy website database so you will have more success by using a keyword or keywords such as the place your ancestor lived, their occupation, or religion. DPLA does allow for exact phrase searching which means that you can type your keyword phrase in quotes (“Women’s Christian Temperance Union”). You can read more in the Search Tips web page .
Once you identify your item(s) of interest you can click on each result and learn more about that specific item. Clicking on the blue button at the top labeled View Full Item takes you to the website of the contributing institution. This information is important because it includes any permissions you need to use the item in a publication, on or offline.
Finding all kinds of great items on DPLA? How about saving those items to a list? The great thing about DPLA lists is that they do not require you to create a DPLA account (no need to come up with a new password!). The lists you create are saved on your browser. Now it's important to remember that since they are saved on your browser they are not available if you use another browser or computer. If you are using a public computer you may want to consider not creating a DPLA list or if you do, you can download your list as a spreadsheet when you're done. Finally, you cannot share your lists so downloading them is the only way to share your research finds with others (consider downloading the list to Google Sheets and then sharing it).
You can create a list once you have conducted your search by clicking on the orange button Create New List or by going to the link My Lists found at the bottom of the website before you start your search. Once you name your list, check boxes will appear to the left of each item in your result's list. You can then just click on the items you wish to save to your list. You can also save items from each item’s individual page.
Once you have your list, you can download the information as a spreadsheet. Go to My Lists found at the bottom of the DPLA website and then click on the list you’re interested in. Click on the Download list link to download a spreadsheet. This page also allows you to remove items from your list or delete the list altogether. Remember that if you are not using the browser you used when you created the list, you will not see it in My Lists. As of this writing you can have up to 50 items on a list.
You can see step-by-step instructions for lists by consulting DPLA’s News web page announcing this feature .
Ready to search DPLA? It's a great source for digitized content and you might even find what you need to bring your ancestor to life. With DPLA's My Lists, you can save what you find and it will still be there should you research time get interrupted or if you want to come back to your search at a later time.