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This article originally appeared in Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records, edited by Kory L. Meyerink.


This section discusses how to find out what printed sources exist. (Information on finding a source in a library is discussed below under Effective Use of Libraries and Archives.”) There are two basic types of tools that will indicate if a printed source pertaining to a topic exists: bibliographies and indexes. Each of these types of tools is treated in great depth throughout Printed Sources, and they are topics of separate chapters. However, it is useful to provide an overview here and to indicate what topics are covered and in which chapters. Also, the specific bibliographies and indexes associated with particular types of printed sources are thoroughly discussed in each chapter. Here it is sufficient to review the different types of bibliographies and indexes. The relationships of these tools to other genealogical sources are discussed above in the section on Categories of Research Sources and Tools.


Simply put, a bibliography is a list of books or sources. Usually, the books in such a list have some common element. The list may include all the works of a particular author or, more commonly, a selection of books (and/or articles, dissertations, programs, or other works) having a common subject. The list can be a comprehensive bibliography, meaning that every source applicable to the subject is included in it. Bibliographies may include original or published sources, or both. A bibliography may exist as a list of sources cited in a book or as a separately published book. The foremost genealogical bibliography is P. William Filby’s American and British Genealogy and Heraldry: A Select List of Books. A few specific types of bibliographies having genealogical applications are described below.

Library Catalogs

Many libraries have published catalogs of their books and other holdings. These are usually book publications, but the largest catalog of genealogical sources is the annual Family History Library Catalog, the current edition of which is available for sale on more than 2,700 microfiche. Other library catalogs of genealogical value that have been published include Genealogies in the Library of Congress, Local Histories in the Library of Congress, the DAR Library Catalog, the Dictionary Catalog of the Local History and Genealogy Division of the New York Public Library, and The Catalog of the American Antiquarian Society. Each of these bibliographies lists some of the sources available at the particular library, according to the cataloging rules of the library. Generally, sources are listed in them by the author and/or title and the subject. In genealogical bibliographies, the subject of a book may be a personal or family name, thus creating a surname catalog.

Union Lists

A union list or catalog is a special bibliography that attempts to indicate all of the libraries that have copies of the sources listed. Most union lists are cooperative ventures among libraries with common interests. Some union lists are subject specific, while some seek to be comprehensive or universal. The best-known union list is the Library of Congress’s National Union Catalog; it includes most books published in the United States and many published in other countries. It is available in most libraries and is updated regularly on microfiche. The problem with comprehensive union lists is that their very nature makes them large, and it can be difficult to find information in them. Also, sources are only listed once, usually by the author, or, if no author is given, by the title; there is no subject access in most union lists.

Books in Print

To find books that are currently available for sale, turn to any of several sources that list books in print. Although they list only new (or still available) books, lists of books in print help resolve the problem of where to find certain books. Most are arranged by subject, author, and title, and some are arranged by publisher. The most common is Books in Print, which can be found in every library and book store. Genealogists should also refer to Genealogical and Local History Books in Print (issued irregularly; the fifth edition was published in 1996 and 1997).


A serial is issued on a regular basis by an institution or organization, without a predetermined final issue. Usually called periodicals (or magazines), serials often receive separate treatment in bibliographies. A comprehensive bibliography is Union List of Serials, followed (since 1961) by New Serial Titles. For a list of currently published serials see Ulrich’s Standard Periodical Directory.


Usually a series is a group of related books issued by a publisher over a relatively short time (often one or two years), with a specific number of books planned for the series from the beginning. Series allow the publisher to market the books as a set, as they generally appeal to the same market. Sometimes several older, out-of-print books are reprinted as a series. Thus there is some subject orientation to a series issued by a single publisher.

Many bibliographies and catalogs fail to identify series. The best source is Books in Series. It includes, for example, entire series devoted to the history of one religious denomination, such as the Dutch Reformed Church, with lists of pastors and histories of congregations, or of one ethnic group, such as Italians. The books in such series can provide needed background information for successful research.

Statewide Bibliographies

Many statewide bibliographies have been published. Often they are intended to include everything that has been written about a state. They are especially good sources for lists of all the local histories written for a state or town of interest.

Computer Networks

Many libraries participate in computer library networks for the purpose of sharing the cataloging of their books. One library may enter the information about a book and assign it a call number. Any other library on the network can copy that information and add it to its catalog, thus saving the time and expense of cataloging the book itself. These networks are a boon to researchers; if a library does not have the book sought, the network can be queried to learn which libraries anywhere in the United States have it. Thus, such a network is a kind of universal union catalog. The two largest networks are OCLC (Online Computer Library Center), which serves several thousand (mostly public) libraries, and RLIN (Research Library Network), which serves several hundred (mostly academic) libraries. Consult a local librarian about using one of these networks.


Indexes are another tool for learning that a source that may be of interest exists. Some indexes are associated with bibliographies (or lists of sources which they index), such as Munsell’s Index to American Genealogies, while others, such as the Genealogical Index of the Newberry Library, simply cite the book in each reference in the index. Throughout Printed Sources, the authors describe the indexes that are available for the sources being discussed. Some of the major indexes for general genealogy topics are listed. They are discussed in the applicable chapters.

Many indexes will help the researcher find previously compiled genealogies notably the American Genealogical-Biographical Index, The Greenlaw Index of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and the Genealogical Index of the Newberry Library. For biographical information, search Gale Research Company’s Genealogy and Biography Master Index. To find articles of interest in genealogical periodicals, check Jacobus’s Index to Genealogical Periodicals, Genealogical Periodical Annual Index (GPAI), or Periodical Source Index (PERSI). An excellent index to published immigration and naturalization indexes is Filby’s Passenger and Immigration Lists Index. County and local histories are often indexed at the state level, but do not overlook the Library of Congress Index to Biographies in State and Local Histories. Each of these sources, and many other indexes, is described in the appropriate chapters of Printed Sources.

Bibliographies and indexes are vital, but researchers can learn about helpful sources in many other ways. Members of genealogical societies receive information through society periodicals and their members. A local library may have a new book review shelf where recent acquisitions are displayed, and publishers will send copies of their catalogs upon request.

Finally, many researchers have found that they cannot possibly know about every book of interest. Therefore, begin research by assuming that a book exists. Then try to find out, through the sources listed above and throughout Printed Sources, if one really does exist. This is a reversal of the usual process of determining what sources exist, but it forces the researcher to think about what has been found elsewhere, and to apply that thinking to new situations. If a book about silversmiths in Ohio exists, it is just as likely that one may exist for silversmiths in Virginia. And the fact that a local library does not list it in its catalog or that it is not in a bibliography is no reason to give up. Further searches will prove that one does exist.

Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records


Publication Information:

Introduction - By Kory L. Meyerink

Origin of InformationCategories of Research Sources and ToolsEvaluation of Printed SourcesDocumentation and CopyrightLearning What Printed Sources ExistPublishers and DistributorsRepositories of Printed SourcesEffective Use of Libraries and Archives

Chapter 1: General Reference - Martha L. Henderson

Unique Resources in Public LibrariesDewey Decimal Classification SystemReference SourcesEncyclopediasGeneral History SourcesSocial History SourcesAlmanacs, Chronologies, and Statistical SourcesUsing DirectoriesLocal DirectoriesPrinted Professional DirectoriesInstitutional DirectoriesDirectories of Groups and AssociationsSource GuidesGeneral Language DictionariesHistorical and Etymological DictionariesSlang DictionariesSubject DictionariesSurname DictionariesGovernment DocumentsUsing BibliographiesElectronic SourcesReferences for Printed Sources: Chapter 1

Chapter 2: Instructional Materials - Sandra Hargreaves Luebking

Introduction to Instructional MattersHow-To Guides and Manuals for AdultsHow-to Guides and Manuals for Young PeopleGenealogy Technologies and Refinement of SkillsCourses and Programs of StudyPeriodical ArticlesIdentifying and Obtaining Instructional MaterialsEvaluating Instructional MaterialsSelecting Textbooks for Classroom UseThe Future of Instructional MaterialsReferences for Printed Sources: Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Introduction to Geographic ToolsIntroduction to Maps and GazettersMapping of a New NationRoutes to the WestCanals and WaterwaysRailroadsPolitical MapsNineteenth-Century MapsUSGS Topographic MapsOrdering Topographic Map Names and NumbersOrdering Topographic MapsDigital Topographic MapsOut-of-Print Topographic MapsFact Sheets and General Interest PublicationsOther Types of USGS MapsNineteenth-Century National GazetteersTwentieth-Century National GazetteersPostal Guides and Shipping GuidesMaps, Gazetteers, and the ComputerFinding Geographic ToolsUsing Geographic ToolsReferences for Printed Sources: Chapter 3

Chapter 4

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Chapter 5

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Chapter 6

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Chapter 7

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Chapter 8

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Chapter 9

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Chapter 10

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Chapter 11

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Chapter 12

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Chapter 13

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Chapter 14

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Chapter 15

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Chapter 16

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Chapter 17

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Chapter 18

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Chapter 19

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Chapter 20

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