Answers to common questions

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What is WorldCat, and how can it help genealogy researchers?

WorldCat is a cooperatively-created catalog of materials held in more than 10,000 libraries worldwide, including public, academic, state and national libraries; archives; and historical societies. These libraries have cataloged their regular collections as well as many special collections—including digitized materials—devoted to local history. This makes WorldCat a unique tool for your research into your heritage.

Because WorldCat is a "super" catalog of more than 1.4 billion library holdings representing more than 170 million items held in libraries, you can reduce the number of places you search to locate useful material. WorldCat complements tools such as the LDS Family History Library, Ancestry.com and ProQuest's HeritageQuest™.

Some examples of the types of materials you can find citations for in WorldCat:

  • Historic newspapers (some of which have been cataloged and preserved through theUnited States Newspaper Program, including newspapers in many languages)
  • Newspapers from non-U.S. countries
  • Historic photographs (e.g., from the collections of the Denver Public Library Western History/Genealogy Department and the Colorado Historical Society)
  • Church histories
  • Cemetery records
  • Civil war and other military records
  • Town histories
  • Slavery and anti-slavery materials
  • Black biographical dictionaries
  • Oral histories
 
  • Diaries and journals
  • Probate records
  • Burial records
  • Obituaries
  • Microfilmed genealogy and local history collections
  • Indexes to wills
  • Indexes to births, marriages and deaths
  • Family histories
  • Family bibles
  • Manuscripts from archives
  • General genealogical resources such as directories, handbooks and magazines

Note that while many of the materials represented are held in U.S. libraries, there is a broad representation of non-U.S. materials from both U.S. libraries and non-U.S. libraries. For example, there are more than 69,000 non-English language newspapers cataloged in WorldCat.

Some of the most exciting things in libraries are the materials that were created locally and are now long out of print. With library digitization projects, or with most libraries being willing to photocopy or scan portions of materials, you can expand your access to research materials far beyond those libraries you can easily visit in person.

Where can I find WorldCat to use it?

The easiest place to find WorldCat is at www.worldcat.org, on any computer with an internet connection. Simply enter your search terms and start getting results for libraries worldwide. You can then refine your query through the facets or scope results by geographies.

WorldCat is also available as a database within the OCLC FirstSearch reference service. Your library's Web site or workstations may point you directly to WorldCat, or first to OCLC or FirstSearch. You can ask your librarian or search your library's Web site, much as you do for Ancestry.com, HeritageQuest and other online genealogy resources.

Because WorldCat is also a general-purpose catalog, it may be listed under "Other Library Catalogs," "General Resources," or possibly with the other genealogical resources to which they provide access. In some libraries, a librarian might offer to search WorldCat for you, or give you instructions on how to use it.

Can I access WorldCat from home?

Yes! Go to www.worldcat.org to search WorldCat from home, school, work, at the coffee shop, from your mobile phone, or anywhere that has a Web connection.

You can also use WorldCat on Facebook, add it to your quick search box on Firefox or add a WorldCat widget to your genealogy blog.

Is WorldCat free, or can I subscribe to it if my library doesn't provide access?

WorldCat.org is free for anyone to use. You can create a personal profile on WorldCat.org, make lists, tag items, save complex searches, designate libraries as your “favorites,” contribute reviews and ratings—just to name a few!

The WorldCat database on FirstSearch is available exclusively through libraries or other organizations, and is not available for direct purchase by individuals. However, many libraries have access to it, and several states have purchased a WorldCat subscription for all of their residents. If you don't see it listed on your library's Web site, ask for it. The library may not yet have provided a link to WorldCat.

Now that I have access to WorldCat, how do I find what I need in it?

Finding materials in WorldCat is similar to finding materials in your local library catalog. Often, researchers can find pointers to useful material by simply searching for a family name or a specific location, alone or in combination with genealogy terms.

Learn more about options for genealogical research in the “Focus on Genealogy” Quick Reference PDF.

I've found something in another library that looks useful—how do I get it?

There are several things you can try:

  • Ask your librarian if the library will borrow it for you—and whether the holding library will lend it—or ask if the holding library is willing to make a photocopy or scan of applicable portions of the material for you.
  • Try looking for the material at Web-based booksellers, now that you know it exists.
  • Drive to the holding library, if it's close enough—it might just be worth it to examine the material in person; or
  • Locate a researcher in the area who would be willing to visit the holding library for you; your librarian may be able to help you do this.

How do I stay up with all the latest updates and changes to WorldCat.org?

Follow us on Twitter, become a Fan on Facebook, and most important—sign up to receive regular e-mail updates about WorldCat.org.

OCLC is a worldwide library cooperative, owned, governed and sustained by members since 1967. Our public purpose is a statement of commitment to each other—that we will work together to improve access to the information held in libraries around the globe, and find ways to reduce costs for libraries through collaboration. Learn more »