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Collections at HathiTrust

The Legal Genealogist is somewhat shamefaced today.

An imprecise use of the terms for record sets at the online digitized service HathiTrust Digital Library in a blog post earlier this week left a reader frustrated.

I was focusing on some cool published volumes of public lands decisions of the Department of the Interior, and noted that they’d been “included in one of four collections that already exist at HathiTrust” and that the big advantage to finding them on HathiTrust was that “having multiple volumes included in a single collection … is being able to do a full-text search across the entire collection.”1

And that left reader Anne frustrated: “How do you search a collection and only that specific collection? I know how to search an individual item on Hathi Trust. The Search Tips said a collection could be searched but didn’t say how. I tried different things on Advanced Search but kept pulling up results from other items, not just Volume 1 thru 37.”

Um… ooops.

Operator error on my part.

Here’s the problem: the links I provided were to catalog collections, not collections as that term is used for searching.

Take for example the first link, to Volumes 1 (1881-83) through 37 (1908-09) of the Interior Department decisions. Click on that and what appears looks like what you might call a collection:

HathiTrust catalog

But at HathiTrust that’s just a catalog grouping, and not a collection. And that’s why there’s no link to search the collection on that page.

A collection that you can search as a unit looks like this — a collection I just created yesterday of all of the Interior Department decisions from volume 1 through volume 101:

HathiTrust collection

And there, with the arrow, is the feature to search just that collection.

Now… as of this morning there were 4517 already-existing public collections at HathiTrust, and you can check to see if there’s one you want to search. From the main entry page at HathiTrust, click on the Browse Collections box and then use the Find a Collection box. Note that the search term has to be exact. If you search for Interior Decisions, the collection won’t show up, because the name of that collection is Interior Department Decisions. Which means, if you find one you like, bookmark it or save it as your own new collection.

Which, of course, raises the question of how to create your own collection, doesn’t it?

HathiTrust, remember, is “a partnership of academic & research institutions”2 and “Members of partner institutions get access to the largest number of volumes and features by logging in with their institution. Logging in enables members of HathiTrust partner institutions to … Create, save and share public or private collections …”3

And, of course, most of us aren’t members of partner institutions.

But we can still create and save collections: “Users that do not belong to partner institutions can create a guest account. Log in with an existing account (Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc.). Users can also create a University of Michigan “friend” account. Logged in guests can: Create, save and share public or private collections …”4

So… if you want to see all of the Interior Department public lands decisions from volumes 1-101 in one place, the collection is here.

Others that just might be useful to a genealogist include:

The War of the Rebellion — 451 items, “The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies.”

Cornell Making of America — 1234 items, “The Cornell University Library Making of America Collection is comprised of primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction.”

Bureau of Indian Affairs — 1598 items, “Publications authored by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. The collection is updated as items are added to the HathiTrust repository.”

Confederate Imprints — 2374 items, “Items printed in the Confederate States of America between secession from the Union and the surrender of the Confederate military, Dec 1860-Apr 1865.”

Official Gazette — 1903 items, “Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office.”

• And an overly-inclusive collection titled Ancestry and Genealogy, with 2760 items including some of doubtful validity.

Collections at HathiTrust. There’s a difference between catalog collections and the searchable versions. But figuring that out and getting to the ones we want is well worth the effort.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Collecting the resources,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 26 Apr 2019).


  1. Judy G. Russell, “Landing those decisions,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 23 Apr 2019 ( : accessed 26 Apr 2019).
  2. Home page, ( : accessed 26 Apr 2019).
  3. Help – Using the Digital Library: What are the benefits of logging in as a member?,” ( : accessed 26 Apr 2019).
  4. Ibid., “Help – Using the Digital Library: Can I login as a guest? What are the benefits?”.
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