Digitized Manuscripts and Archival Collections

Digitized Collections in WorldCat

WorldCat offers the most comprehensive search for digitized archival/manuscript material. However, analogous to microfilm, digitized AM collections usually are not tagged as AM. There are several methods, none of which is perfect, of isolating digitized manuscript material.

Use Advanced Search:

"slave insurrections"


Subject: archives or correspondence or diaries or scrapbooks or sources or manuscripts

Check Internet Resources at Limit type to: Open Options on the upper right, and choose Record List Size: 100, then search.

Most of the results are likely to be ebook versions of books containing primary sources rather than digitized AM.  The default results order is by number of holding libraries, so that ebooks held by numerous libraries will be toward the top of the list.  Therefore, jump down in the list until you get to resources held by only one or two libraries in order to avoid the ebook records.  Here you should find the records of digitized AM collections in the free Web mixed in with other results. Though clumsy, this method of sorting through the results is the most consistent way to get the relevant items. WorldCat.org does not offer a sort by number of libraries but it can be searched with Simple Search or a Keyword field in Advanced Search with searches of the form:

"slave insurrections" AND (su:archives OR su:correspondence OR su:diaries OR su:scrapbooks OR su:sources OR su:manuscripts) AND mt:web

“slave insurrections” AND (ti:papers OR ti:records OR ti:letters OR ti:documents OR ti:collection) AND mt=web

The difficulties in searching WorldCat for AM material derive from digitized and microfilm collections not being searchably tagged as AM and from the numerous member libraries each having its own idea of how AM (original, microfilm, digitized) should be tagged. Records for books are much more consistent.

Digital Library Directory is a searchable collection of links to digital collections.

Advanced Google Searches

General Google searches may yield very many results, and it may take much sifting through the results in order to find relevant items. Using Google Advanced Search with specific search terms can help yield more focused results.

Within Google Advanced Search, use the “all of these words” and the “this exact word or phrase” to enter keywords for your subject, for example,

  • all these words: Botanists
  • any of these words: archives manuscripts correspondence diaries scrapbooks sources letters

Also try:

  • all these words: Botanists
  • any of these words: "digital archives" "digital collection" "online collection"

For British material: Connected Histories (1500-1900) and Manuscripts Online (1000-1500) searches within a wide range of digitized historical sources


Microfilmed Manuscripts and Archival Collections

Microfilmed Collections in HOLLIS

To find microfilmed archival collections in HOLLIS, go to HOLLIS Advanced Search. Example:

slave insurrections (exact phrase)
sources OR diaries OR correspondence OR archives OR manuscripts OR “Personal narratives” OR notebooks (as Subject)

Also try limiting your search to Location: Microforms (Lamont).

You cannot presently limit to microfilm in HOLLIS, but this feature is coming July 1st.

In HOLLIS use capital letters for OR and straight not curly quotes.

Collection Guides

Large microfilm collections are typically accessed via printed guides, the call numbers of which include the term "INDEX" in HOLLIS. Many microfilm collection guides are available online but are not linked from HOLLIS. Some may be found on their publisher's web sites. Large microform publishers include:
Primary Source Media/Scholarly Resources Online Guides Gale (Keyword search offers more detailed search than HOLLIS+)
Adam Matthew Digital Guides
University Publications of America (ProQuest)

Microfilm collection titles can also be searched in Google.

Microfilm guides are browsable on the publisher websites and you may find collections of interest not retrieved by HOLLIS searches. However, online guides are not available for all microfilm collections.


Microfilmed Collections in WorldCat


Many archival collections have been microfilmed. Records of these collections are usually not themselves tagged in WorldCat as archives/manuscripts. Search for them as follows in Advanced Search:


“slave insurrections” (for example)


Subject: sources or diaries or correspondence or archives or manuscripts or “Personal narratives” or notebooks


Also do a separate search for:


“slave insurrections”


Title: papers or records or letters or documents or collection


For both of these searches, change Subtype limits from Any format to Microform.


In FirstSearch or WorldCat.org:

In a keyword field:

"slave insurrections" AND (su:sources OR su:diaries OR su:correspondence OR su:archives OR su:manuscripts OR su:"Personal narratives" OR su:notebooks) AND mt=mic

Also do a separate search for:

“slave insurrections” AND (ti:papers OR ti:records OR ti:letters OR ti:documents OR ti:collection) AND mt=mic

Lists of Microfilm Collections


It is often useful to browse lists, such as:

Guide to the Microform Collections [in the Library of Congress]: Index by Format and Subject A-J. For information on collections found in the Index, look up the full record by hitting the appropriate letter in the green band.

Middle East in Microform

Guides, Collections and Ancillary Materials to African Archival Resources in the United StatesElectronic Journal of Africana Bibliography, Vol. 1 (1997), 82 p.

NARA Microfilm Catalogs lists catalogs of US National Archives microfilms. Hitting "How to Order Microfilm" takes you to the general NARA microfilm catalog.

Microform Research Collections (British Library) arranged alphabetically by title

Printed Manuscripts

Important manuscripts and the papers of prominent figures may be published in printed form and may be found in HOLLIS or WorldCat. Letters are sometimes published in editions of complete writings of an author. Documentary editions of the papers of major historical figures, e.g., The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, contain the subject's outgoing letters which are found in the papers of his correspondents. As locations for these letters are cited, documentary editions serve to locate the papers of the subject's associates.

It can be useful to do a Subject Browse in HOLLIS Classic for an individual, e.g. "Jefferson, Thomas". Published letters, diaries, etc., listed under various subdivisions relating to primary sources will be displayed. Collection guides, calendars, etc., are also listed under these terms. searches Subject keyword searches using these terms can be performed in WorldCat.

Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826 Archives
Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826 Correspondence
Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826 Diaries
Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826 Manuscripts
Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826 Notebooks, sketchbooks, etc.

Sample HOLLIS records:

Franklin, Benjamin, 1706-1790. The complete works of Benjamin Franklin; including his private as well as his official and scientific correspondence, and numerous letters and documents now for the first time printed.... Comp. and ed. by John Bigelow. New York and London, G. P. Putnam's sons, 1887-88. 10 v.
United States Foreign relations 1775-1783.
United States Politics and government To 1775.
United States Politics and government 1775-1783.
United States Politics and government 1783-1789.

Note unhelpful Subject terms. A Keyword (not Subject keyword) search on "correspondence", "documents" or "letters" would retrieve these words in the title.

The FBI files on Elvis Presley / Thomas Fensch, editor. Woodlands, TX : New Century Books, c2001. 167 p. : facsims.
Presley, Elvis, 1935-1977 Archives.
United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation Archives.
Singers United States Archives.
Widener | WID-LC | ML420.P96 F39 2001

Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924. The papers of Woodrow Wilson / [edited by] Arthur S. Link ... [et al.]. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1966-1994.
Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924.
Presidents United States Correspondence.
United States History 1865- Sources.
United States History 1913-1921 Sources.

Historical documentary editions catalog (2000) lists the many documentary editions produced under the auspices of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.  Documentary Editions with free online access.

Published Diaries

Diaries are frequently published. Try a Subject Keyword search ("Diaries North Carolina") to find published diaries and bibliographies of diaries. Several bibliographies of diaries are available.

The repository holding a diary may hold other papers of the same person. The bibliographies of manuscript diaries give locations; for the books listing published diaries, the printed diaries themselves must be consulted, although the location is not always given.

Digitized Diaries:
Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet: Diaries & Letters offers a list of online full text documents.