Skip to Main Content

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

Using an Index to Navigate Digitized Collections

Before the presidential collections were accessible online through the digital collections, they were primarily accessed through microfilm. The Library of Congress published indexes of the presidents' correspondence to help researchers navigate the microfilm collections. Although these collections are now available online, the indexes are still useful to find letters to and from the presidents.

To find a letter based on the name of a correspondent, the index can be used to locate the series the item is located in. The indexes of each president's collection can be found within the text of the "About this Collection" page for the respective collection or under the heading "Expert Resources" on the left side menu. The red arrows in the image below point to where you will find a link to the James A. Garfield Papers Index.

Screenshot illustrating where to find a link to the index.

After navigating to the presidential digital collection, you can use the the index to search for a specific name. The following example shows how to navigate from the index to the digital collection to locate correspondence between Garfield and his son, Hal, on December 19, 1880. Consider any possible names that might be used. Hal, for example, is the nickname of Harry Augustus Garfield, so after locating 'Garfield' in the index, look for 'Harry' rather than 'Hal'. Correspondence sent by 'Garfield, Harry' begins at the end of page 132 and goes until half way through page 134 of the index, listed in chronological order. At the end of page 133, the letter from Hal to his parents dated as '1880 DE 19' can be found.

Screenshot illustrating how to read the index tables.

As seen in the image above, the series 'S' is usually in chronological order. When navigating the online collections, the 'P' stands for page, which shows how many pages a item has. Occasionally, you will see volume numbers listed as an addenda in an index, which can be used to navigate the collection as well. Also in the image above, the letter is addressed to 'JAG' and 'L R Garfield', which stands for 'James A. Garfield' and 'Lucretia Garfield'. Information about abbreviations for names can be found in the front matter of an index.

After successfully locating an item in the index, the item can be searched for in its corresponding series. Locate the series under the "About this Collection" page of the digital collection to navigate to the corresponding digital material, or in the finding aid, using the "Digital content available" link to the digital collection for each series, or sometimes folder or item.

As seen in the image below, there are two folders to choose between. The first does not contain the date of the item we're searching for, so the second folder is the best place to begin.

Contents within each folder are in chronological order, and users may need to navigate through several images before finding the correct date. Hal's letter to his parents is found as item 1005 of 1154.

If you are following along with this tutorial and are unable to find the item of interest or are unable to locate an item in the index, consider asking a librarian in the Manuscript Division for assistance through the Ask a Librarian service.