WorldCat is a powerful tool to have in your genealogy toolbox! Spend time exploring what it has to offer. 
Genealogy Resources

How To Use WorldCat For Your Genealogy Research

Starting out in genealogy, I set out to learn more about my great grandmother Esther Richardson and the Richardson family of Pittsylvania County, VA.  I was new to genealogy and loving every minute of the search for records. I also enjoyed connecting to other Richardson researchers.  (I am so appreciative of their help!)

One query into a Richardson forum returned an intriguing response. My Richardson family history was documented in a printed family history book titled The Collie Family of Pittsylvania County, Virginia: Their Scottish Origins, Relatives, and Descendants : Including Connecting Families of Cornwell, Jennings, and Richardson by Betty Cox Collie and Robert E. King.

Unfortunately, the book was out of print and I was unable to obtain a copy.

But I wasn’t done!

Off to WorldCat I went……

What is WorldCat?

WorldCat  is essentially the world’s biggest card catalog for books, articles, etc. Using WorldCat a genealogy researcher is able to search libraries around the world for family history resources to advance your research.

Using the Collie/Richardson family book above as an example, let’s take a closer look at how to perform a search using WorldCat.

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1.On the WorldCat homepage, type the title of the book in the search bar. 

You can type in a partial title or even just general search terms here. Not knowing the title of the book, I could have typed in “Collie Family Pittsylvania County VA” or some variation.


2.The Results

Two results came back with the second result being the book I was searching.

Clicking on the result reveals the entry page for the book:

I’ve found the right book….now how could I get my hands on a copy?

3.Scroll down the page to the “Find a copy in the library” section.

A list of libraries or repositories appears with the closest to your location at the top. If one of these libraries is close enough, a road trip is in order.  Often the closest library is still too far away to make a trip, but you still have options.

4.Inter-library Loan

If you are unable to travel to a book’s repository, contact your local city or county library and pursue an inter-library loan for the book you need.  (You do have your library card, right?) I have done this frequently with fabulous results.

5.Continuing Your Genealogy Search

Take your genealogy research a bit further by continuing down to the “Similar Items” section.

Here you will find related subjects to search. Some you may be familiar with, but others you may not. This is a great place to expand your research possibilities.

Other Types of Information Searches Useful on WorldCat

In our example above, we looked at a specific book. Using more general terms, you can explore WorldCat for books and other material on:

  • Local area histories
  • Specific family histories
  • Records to Southern Plantations
  • Religious records in a region (Ex. Methodist records in Pennsylvania)

Tip: Your local librarian can assist you in searching WorldCat.

Your Take Away

WorldCat is a powerful tool to have in your genealogy toolbox! Spend time exploring what it has to offer.  Don’t hesitate to experiment with different types of searches.

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WorldCat is a powerful tool to have in your genealogy toolbox! Spend time exploring what it has to offer. 

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  • Marianna Soots

    I have used world cat for a while and I learned a couple things from your post thank you. Do you have any suggestions when they cannot find a book anywhere. I had found a couple of books about my ancestors and they were not available anywhere and weren’t older then 10 years.

    • LisaL

      Marianna, That’s a very good question. I wonder if the books were self published without an ISBN number. That may be why they don’t show up. If you have the author’s name, try contacting them. You may also want to talk with your local librarian to see if they have any further suggestions. Keep me updated!

  • RonNasty64

    I use the Inter-Library loan system all the time. One time I found a title that wasn’t available through the ILL, so I wrote a note to my local library and asked if they knew how to get it. They must have used Worldcat, because a few weeks later, my book had arrived! I obviously wasn’t aware of Worldcat, so I would have tried that myself.

  • Solveig Quass

    Thanks for your article. Very informative. I live so close to the FHL that I forget to check elsewhere. I can’t wait to see what WorldCat has.

  • Janelle Holmes

    Family Histories and Local Histories are always based on user submitted information, nearly always unsourced but based on family word-of-mouth or through more “modern” sources such as the Family Tree Maker disc which are full of errors. Another common mistake is showing a matriarchal ancestor’s surname as that of a previous or later husband. Family Data sources on Ancestry are also user submitted, as are US and International Marriage Records and some US and International Passenger Lists. It is often not until many generation have passed and REAL documentation is available that these errors are noticed. Researchers beware! If the facts are not backed up by court documents or REAL documentation they should only be listed as “possibles”

    • LisaL

      Janelle, That’s a great reminder. Family histories and local histories can certainly provide important clues to our research. All researchers need to find the supporting documentation before accepting the unsourced information as fact.

  • Christine Bullock

    Hi Lisa, Thank you for this informative report. I was really surprised when you mentioned the Collie book as I have that book. I found it at a church yard sale several years ago. At the time I didn’t know if it would help me but any time I see a family history book I buy it if it is within my budget. When I looked at the index later, I found my Wells family and was really glad I had purchased it. I had never heard of the World Cat but I will certainly look at it in the future. I know that you have many relatives in Pittsylvania County, VA and wonder if you have ever visited the Bassett Historical Center in Henry County, VA. It is a wonderful repository of historical records and family information from the Southside Virginia area. They have a web page that you can learn about them. I have a feeling that somewhere along the line we may be related.

    • LisaL

      Christine, how fortunate you found the Collie book! I’m not familiar with the Bassett Historical Center you mentioned. I’ll have to check it out. And yes, I would not be surprised to find we are related through collateral lines.

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