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Presidential Family Correspondence: Manuscript Collections and Resources at the Library of Congress

Search and Navigation Tips

When searching for materials related to presidential correspondence in the Library of Congress Online Catalog and in other repositories, there are several strategies that be be helpful.

  • The twenty-three presidential papers are all available on the Library of Congress's digital collections. If certain material in a collection have not been digitized, it is noted on the "About this Collection" page and in the collection finding aid.
  • To discover related collections, search for their finding aids. For more guidance, see "Searching Finding Aids" below.
  • Not all related collections are available online. A visit to the Manuscript Reading Room may be necessary for access.
  • The presidential papers have indexes to their correspondence, which are available online and can be found on the left-hand side of each digital collection landing page under "Expert Resources." These indexes were developed to aid in navigating the microfilm editions of the collections, but are also useful when using the digital collections to identify dates and series numbers for specific items. For more guidance, see Using an Index to Navigate Digitized Collections section of this guide. 
  • Remember that sometimes presidential letters have been dispersed in other collections. Some first ladies and presidents' children have their own separate collections, which can hold correspondence with the president. For example, some of James A. Garfield's family members have their own collections held in the Manuscript Division, such as Lucretia Rudolph Garfield and Harry Augustus Garfield. These finding aids are linked below for example:

Finding Aids

A finding aid provides a detailed description of a collection by summarizing the overall scope of the content, conveying details about the individuals and organizations involved, and listing box and folder headings. Special service conditions are noted, including terms under which the collection may be accessed or copied. Links are provided to digitized content, when available.

See the table below for a description of each section found in a finding aid.

Section in Finding Aid Definition
Collection Summary An overview of the collection, giving research information such as the full title, the dates the collection content covers, the language(s) the collection is in, the location it's stored, and a summary of collection contents.
Selected Search Terms The terms listed under this heading have been used to index the description of a collection in the Library's online catalog. They are grouped by name of person or organization, by subject or location, and by occupation. They are listed alphabetically within each section.
Administrative Information Information on how the Library obtained the collection, other divisions that have content from the collection, the location of additional resources or indexes relating to the collection, details about copyright and donor-imposed restrictions, and the preferred format to create a citation for the collection.
Biographical Note Offers broader historical context of the collection and often provides a timeline of important events that relate to the collection's content.
Scope and Content Note Provides a history of the relevant events relating to the collection, gives an overview of what the collection content is about, and highlights notable items or correspondents in the collection.
Arrangement/Organization of the Papers Describes the arrangement of the collection as processed by archivists.
Description of Series hierarchical list of folder level description; includes microfilm reel number or container number of each file.

Keyword search Library of Congress finding aids at

When you open, all Library of Congress finding aids are searched by default. Researchers can narrow their search to finding aids for manuscript collections only. Find the drop-down menu, "Within Library of Congress Collections", select "Manuscript" to search only Manuscript Division collections.

Keyword Search

Search By Keyword Across All LC Finding Aids

  • Enter your search terms in the search box on the Search Finding Aids page. Choose whether to search all words (default option), any words, or the words in your query as a single phrase.
  • You may also search by the Library's unique finding aid identifier -- the last component of the finding aid handle (for example, ms009304 in the handle hdl:loc.mss/eadmss.ms009304).
  • From the Search Results page, select a brief results entry. A full display of the finding aid opens in a new browser window or tab. Click on Show search terms in context in a brief results entry to open the full display of the finding aid at the Search Results tab.

Search By Keyword Within One LC Finding Aid

  • From a full finding aid display, you can search within that finding aid by entering search terms in the search box labeled "Search this Finding Aid." Search results appear in the Search Results tab. Click on a relevance ranked link to open the appropriate finding aid section in a new browser tab or window.

Formatting Keyword Search Terms

  • Diacritics: Accent marks can be used in keyword searches.
  • To find all words -- whether or not they contain diacritics -- do not use diacritics in your search terms. For example, search search Leon to find both Léon and Leon. To find only words containing diacritics, include the diacritics in your search term. For example, search Pułaski to find Pułaski but not Pulaski. Right and left half-ligatures and half-tildes are converted to spaces. Therefore, to search these terms as keywords, the single word containing these diacritics must instead be treated as a phrase. For example, search the phrase "I U rii" to find I︠U︡riĭ For controlled terms that include half-ligatures and half-tildes, we recommend you use Browse to find names, titles, and subjects containing these diacritics.
  • Upper and Lower Case Letters: Keyword searches ignore whether you use upper or lower case letters.
  • Punctuation: Most punctuation (such as periods, commas, and quotation marks) is ignored in keyword searches. Apostrophes and hyphens are converted to spaces.
  • Special Characters: Characters such as ampersands and dollar signs can be used in keyword searches.

Limiting Keyword Searches

By Specific Finding Aid Sections

  • By default, the complete finding aid is searched. You have two additional options:
  • Select Collection Overview to search information in the narrative part of a finding aid. Collection Overview limits your search to information about Library collections and how they can be used. It includes collection creators and provenance, as well as conditions of access and use, arrangement of the collection, index terms, and other helpful administrative information.
  • Select Contents List to search a detailed listing of contents of the collection components. This does not include searching any texts in the collection itself.

Searching the Library of Congress Catalog

When searching in the Library of Congress Online Catalog, you can limit your search results to materials held by the Manuscript Division by selecting "Advanced Search", and then "Add Limits", and finally "Manuscript" under "Location in the Library".(see screenshot below).

Screen shot of Library of Congress catalog page showing how you can limit the location to the Manuscript Division

Authorized subject headings can be useful when searching in online catalogs. Subject headings include standardized topics, names, places, titles, and forms/genres of material. Subject headings like those listed below can help researchers get started and to perform searches in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Since there are twenty-three presidential paper collections, the below is not comprehensive but rather a selected list of broad subject headings related to the topic of presidential correspondence, including but not limited to:

Many presidents can be searched through a combination of names, “family”, and “correspondence”, including:

Keep the subject headings listed above in mind as you search the Library of Congress Online Catalog.