Expand Your Research Options Using Catalog Subjects
November 26, 2021
The FamilySearch Catalog. Chances are you use it. But are you using all it offers? Case in point: subject headings.
Subject Headings are likely something you’ve encountered in other library catalogs. You will see subject headings in pretty much every library catalog you use, even the FamilySearch Catalog. So what are they? “Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) is a list of words and phrases – called headings – that are used to indicate the topics of library resources. It is used by most academic and research libraries in the United States, as well as by many public and school libraries. It is also used by libraries throughout the world....LCSH brings consistency to library collections by categorizing topics into logical arrangements, and by controlling synonyms, variant spellings, and homographs.” So in a nutshell, subject headings are a way that library materials are cataloged.
What this means for you is the opportunity to find other works that are similar to your item of interest. This doesn’t always work to our advantage, sometimes there simply aren’t other similar resources in the catalog, but in some cases, you might uncover additional resources. I find this especially helpful in cases where I have conducted a keyword search.
So let’s look at two examples from the FamilySearch Catalog. In this first example, I did a Place search on Spain, Madrid and then chose the category Civil Registration. This is the card catalog entry for the single result in this category.
Notice under Subjects it says Locality Subjects and provides two links:
Spain, Madrid - Census
Spain, Madrid - Civil registration
In this case, the civil registration link is for this entry and no others exist in this category. The census link includes two resources, this entry and another.
Now let’s look at a different example, this time I conducted a keyword search on the phrase “women newspaper.” This is an example where my keyword phrase probably isn't the best so I could benefit from other suggestions. One of my results was the book, Index of references to American women in colonial newspapers through 1800. Notice that in this case not only are there more links but they are divided by Locality Subjects and Library of Congress Subjects.
Notice that these include Locality Subjects for Genealogy and Newspaper Indexes for the United States as well as Library of Congress Subjects for Women and American Newspapers. In this case, the LOC subjects lead me to no other resources. However, the Locality Subjects lead me to over 100 additional resources. This can be beneficial in helping me locate additional items for my research.
The FamilySearch Catalog is a vital resource for your genealogy. Don't stop at entering a search. Study your results to get the most from your research. Learn more about using the Catalog so your research can benefit. To start, read the FamilySearch Wiki page “Introduction to the FamilySearch Catalog.”
 “Process for Adding and Revising Library of Congress Subject Headings,” Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/aba/cataloging/subject/lcsh-process.html: accessed 18 November 2021).
Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.