Catalog Search Strategies for Genealogists | Newberry

Catalog Search Strategies for Genealogists

Genealogy of Pedronilla and Juliana. A pictorial genealogy of four generations.

Genealogy of Pedronilla and Juliana. A pictorial genealogy of four generations. 1576. Vault Oversize Ayer MS 1902.

The following strategies will help researchers locate genealogical sources in the Newberry’s catalog. Do not hesitate to ask reference librarians for assistance.

Published Genealogies

Set the catalog to “subject” search, and then search on the following subject:

[Surname] family.
Example: Chapman family.

If you are lucky, someone has already compiled parts of your family’s history and published it. These books are cataloged under the surname. You will need to look at the book’s index to determine if your ancestors are discussed in that book.

Local Histories, Biographies, And Court and Vital Records

Set the catalog to “subject” search, and then search on the following subject:

[Name of County].
[Name of Town].
Example: Will County (Ill.). not Illinois – Will County.
Example: Joliet (Ill.).

Subheadings include:

[Name of County or Town] – Genealogy
(local record indexes, probate abstracts, and more)

[Name of County or Town] – Biography
(biographical sketches)

[Name of County or Town] – History
(local histories)


Directories include city, phone, county, social, professional, fraternal, and ethnic directories. Most city directories held by the library are uncataloged; the best way to locate them is to consult the directories guide (available in binders at the reference desks). Researchers can also search the following subject in the catalog:

[Name of City] – Directories.


Online Databases: Online databases are the easiest and most effective way for researchers to access the US and Canadian censuses. The Newberry subscribes to two commercial databases that provide access to census records: and HeritageQuest Online. Researchers will find these resources linked from the genealogy menu on any computer in the library. While the Newberry does not provide remote access to these resources, a number of censuses are now freely available at the FamilySearch Labs website created by the Family History Library.

Federal Census in Microfilm and Print: While databases are the way most researchers access census records, microfilm copies of the census is still useful for browsing purposes. The Newberry’s holds US Federal census microfilm for all states 1790-1850, select states 1860-1880, and Illinois 1900-1920. Federal census microfilm is not cataloged. It is stored at the second floor reference desk. Ask there for assistance. The library also holds census indexes in print and microfilm: holdings include book indexes for 1790-1850 for all states, the 1880 Soundex microfilmfor select states, Soundex for Illinois for 1900-1920. Ask at the 2nd floor reference desk.

County indexes and transcriptions:
[Name of County] – Census.
Example: Lake County (Ill.) – Census, 1880.

State Census: See binder at second floor reference desk.
[Name of State] – Census.

Newspapers and Newspaper Abstracts

See also, Newspaper Holdings Checklist at the second and third floor reference desks and the guide to the Early American Newspapers series at the third floor reference desk. The Illinois Newspaper Project includes Newberry’s newspaper holdings as well as those of other Illinois repositories.

[Name of City or State] – Newspapers.
[Name of City or State] – History – Sources.
Newspapers – [Name of State] – [Name of City].
American newspapers – [Name of State or City].
[Title of Newspaper].

Example: Albany (N.Y.) – History – Sources.
Example: Newspapers – Pennsylvania – Carlisle.
Example: American newspapers – Georgia.


[Name of Country, State, County, City, or Ethnic Group] – [History or Genealogy] – Periodicals.

Example: Swedish-Americans – Genealogy – Periodicals.

For indexing of articles, search the PERiodical Source Index

Maps and Gazeteers (Place name dictionaries)

[Name of Country, State, County, or Town] – Maps.
[Name of Country, State, County, or Town] – Description and Travel – Maps.

Church Records

[Name of Place] – Church history.
[Name of Denomination].
[Name of Church].

Example: Chicago (Ill.) – Church history.
Example: Lutherans.
Example: First St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran.

Military Records

United States – History – [Name of War].
United States. Army – [Unit Designation].
[Name of State] – Militia.
[Name of State] – History – [Name of War].

Example: United States – History – War of 1812.
Example: United States. Army – Connecticut Infantry Regiment, 10th.
Example: Ohio – History – Civil War, 1861-1865.

Pension indexes and abstracts:
Pensions, Military – [Name of State].

Land Records

Land Titles – [Name of State, County, or Region].
Land Grants – [Name of State, County, or Region].
Land Tenure – [Name of State, County, or Region].
[Name of State, County, or City] – Genealogy.

Cemetery Records

[Name of State, County, or City] – Genealogy.
[Name of Cemetery].
Cemeteries – [Name of State, County, or City].
Inscriptions – [Name of State, County, or City].
Registers of Births, etc. – [Name of State, County, or City].

Ethnic Groups

[Ethnic Group] – Genealogy.
[Ethnic Group] – [State of residence] – Genealogy.

Example: Polish Americans – California – Genealogy.

Naturalization Records

Naturalization Records – [Name of Place].
[Name of State, County, or City] – Genealogy.

Passenger Lists

Ships – Passenger Lists.
[Ethnic Group] – Genealogy.

Histories and photographs of passenger ships:
Ship – Registers.
Passenger Ships.
Steamboat Lines.

History and Meaning of Surnames

Names, Personal – Dictionaries.
Names, Personal – [Name of Country, Nationality, or Geographic Area].

Example: Names, Personal – France.
Example: Names, Personal – French.

Catalog Search Tips:

The catalog can be searched on the Internet or at public terminals in the library.

Genealogy specialists will assist you at the second floor reference desk. You can also contact a reference librarian by mail, email, phone, and fax.