Why Use the Card Catalog?
The Card Catalog is your resource for answering a lot of your questions quickly and easily. One of the most asked questions is “What records are available on Ancestry.com?” – the Card Catalog can answer those questions and once you have learned to use it you can browse through all of our databases to find what we have available.
REMEMBER: To get to the Card Catalog, hover over ‘Search’ in the top navigation bar and it will be the last link.
Searching the Card Catalog
Ancestry.com currently has over 31,000 databases available to members. That’s a lot of databases to search – meaning that when you do a global search, we are trying to match your criteria with records from all of those databases. Using the Card Catalog, you can narrow down your search and only search through the collections you know may have the record you are looking for.
When you arrive at the Card Catalog, you can browse through all of our databases. Without searching or filtering you can flip through page by page and see every record collection we have available. The collections can be ordered in a few different ways, which will be helpful if you are just exploring or searching for something specific. You can select the drop down menu labeled ‘Sort by’ and select a few different options. Popularity is what is selected automatically which means that the list is sorted by which collections are searched for the most. You can also sort by Title, Record Count, Date Added and Date Updated – also remember that if you hover over a collection, you will see a small dialog box pop up with a description, date added and date updated.
Searching by Title or Keyword
You can search through the card catalog by either title or keyword. If you know the title of the collection that you are looking for, put that into the title search and you should be able to find what you are looking for. For example, if you are trying to get to the 1910 Census, if you type ‘1910’ you’ll see that collection at the top of the list.
If you aren’t sure what Ancestry.com named the particular collection that you are looking for but have an idea, type in keywords into the ‘Keywords’ search box. This will not only search the titles of the databases but will also search the descriptions of each of the databases for the keywords.
The filters to the left are what will help you answer those “Are there records available for _____?” questions. Here you can filter by a few different criteria to find if there is a collection that fits what you are looking for.
There are 3 ways you can filter:
By Collection – You can filter by record type, which means you can look at Birth, Marriage & Death, or Census & Voter Lists, Military, Immigration & Travel, etc. And search by what type of record you are trying to find. This is a great way to explore record collections because many of these record types don’t come up in a regular global search. For example, Maps, Atlases & Gazetteers often do not show up in global search because they are not indexed by name. If, for example, you have a relative that lived in a place or town that changed its name or no longer exists, these maps might help you find where that is or what it was later called. Although that might not be a record that you were looking for, it will help you in finding it.
By Location – Here you can filter by location and see what we have available for a particular state or country. You can also get very specific down to the county. This is really helpful if, for example, you have a membership to search all U.S. collections and you find that you may be expanding your research to include some international locations, but first want to see what is available in the countries you are thinking your research may lead you.
By Time Period – Although it might not be useful to just search by century or decade, this is a great field to combine with the location and collection filters. If you want to see if records are available for North Carolina Births in the 1890s, you can use the time field to see if any of our Birth, Baptism & Christening records match that time and location.
It’s important to note that although the categories are great, they are not finite. Some collections might not be as specific or may not be considered primary sources – like a collection may be included in the Birth, Baptism & Christening records, because it has birth information about individuals but it might not be a birth record per se. So remember to keep that in mind when filtering and browsing collections.
An example of when using the Card Catalog is really helpful is let’s say you are looking for your Great Grandparents’ marriage record. You suspect they were married around 1863 since their oldest child was born in 1864, and you know that they were living in Carroll County, Arkansas. You would go into the Card Catalog and either use the filters or Search by Title for Arkansas to narrow down a location. Then, narrow that down to just Birth, Death & Marriage and then further down to just Marriage & Divorce. Now narrow down the time period, click on the decade ‘1860’. Now after adding all of those filters there are 5 databases to choose from. Rather than try and search through all of these databases, read through the database description – often you’ll find that the description tells you which counties are included and which particular time period. In this particular case, we find out in the description that marriage records weren’t kept for that particular county until 1869, unfortunately. However, if you search the last name of the family and search in that particular county by choosing ‘Exact’ in the location field, there are 16 people, who although are not the great grandparents you are looking for, could be relatives.
Advice for the Card Catalog
Don’t Be Afraid to Explore
Although it might not be the most intuitive thing to do, sometimes just browsing through the Card Catalog and clicking around is the best way to find collections that are great interesting finds, or that might help your research. As we mentioned, many of these collections are not indexed by first name and wouldn’t appear in a global search so they are only accessible through the Card Catalog. They may not be the record you are looking for but can help you get there.
Read Database Descriptions Before Searching
The descriptions for the databases can be extremely helpful. They have valuable information relating to what records are included according to county and years, and has historical context according to the record type and location. Reading these descriptions can save you a lot of time searching through databases that don’t have the records you’re looking for.
Bookmark Databases to Refer to Later
Either bookmark databases in your web browser or you can use the ‘Quick Links’ widget on your Ancestry.com homepage to save databases that you I know you will be working with often.
The Card Catalog can be one of the most powerful tools available to you on Ancestry.com – hopefully with that short explanation of some of the basics, you can use the Card Catalog to get the most out of our databases.