NUCMC and its cousins: “missing” manuscript locators

[Note: some details and URLs have been updated as of September 2020.]

Recently on Facebook, I promised Sue Hawes of Maine that I would tell her more about NUCMC and access to all those wonderful manuscript descriptions. I thought others might also appreciate this information. It’s a long post so you will need to follow the “Read More” at the end of ths main page post.

This blog post contains some content from my seminar handouts and presentations that include details about manuscripts, finding aids, and the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC) and its newer cousins. These are frequently requested lectures and I love watching the eyes of the audience as they realize what they might be able to locate for their own families. In case you are wondering how to pronounce NUCMC, that’s easy: nuckmuck.

NUCMC & its Cousins

Did you ever wonder if a family bible might be in a historical society somewhere? Maybe that missing set of Justice of the Peace records is in an archive in a distant state. Where are the records of the fraternal organization that Uncle Sylvester joined? Might the records of the local midwife still be in existence?

These are manuscripts. These are original records. You may be scratching your head trying to find such items. Of course you check the historical society and archives websites of the counties and states where the person or family resided. Yet, any of these records could be in a distant state. We are fortunate to have several finding aids that assist us in locating these records no matter where they might be housed.

What will finding aids tell researchers?

A typical descriptive entry includes: collection title, years it covers, number of items, volumes or boxes, total linear or cubic feet, name of repository, descriptive highlights, and if there are other  finding aids. Many entries tell how the collection was acquired, i.e. by donation (and by whom) or by purchase. The descriptions often include places, names, subjects, and related collections.

The National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections
An important finding aid is the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC), a cooperative
cataloging program via the Library of Congress. In 1959, repositories all across the U.S. that held manuscript collections began providing the LOC with the descriptions of ones they held. Think about how many years these places had been collecting items and that it is unlikely that each and every thing was thoroughly catalogued and described in detail.

What else might you find via NUCMC and other finding aids?
In addition to the items mentioned earlier, you may find records of individuals, churches, schools, and businesses. The records might include military detail, tax records, justice of the peace papers, records of birth, death, marriage, maps, photographs, account books, personal letters, and oral history transcriptions. It might be the records of the community midwife, the local funeral home, or the last secretary of that book club grandma joined.

Repository participation
The range of repositories participating in the NUCMC cataloging program has changed since its inception. Per the Library of Congress website, eligible repositories must be located in the U. S. and territories, must admit researchers, and today must lack the capability of entering their own manuscript cataloging into national library databases. Not every repository with manuscript collections has participated in NUCMC or other cataloguing programs over the years.

Some participating repositories
Among the thousands of participants in NUCMC and other major manuscript finding aids have been the University of California, Bancroft Library; Yale University Library; University of North Carolina, Southern Historical Collection; California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento; University of Kentucky Library; Duke University Library; Radcliffe College Library Women’s Archives; Rosenberg Library in Galveston, Texas; Minnesota Historical Society; American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati; Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina; Miami Public Library, and the Seattle Municipal Archives. Not all continue to contribute since they now participate in several other electronic cataloguing programs.

In print format for submissions 1959-1993
NUCMC printed volumes, 1-29 (covering submissions from 1959-1993), include descriptions of approximately 72,300 collections located in 1406 different repositories with more than 1million index entries by subject, and personal, family, corporate, and geographic names. These NUCMC volumes are out of print but still are found in many larger public, university, and historical libraries. Some may have the microfilm edition. These 29 volumes were published from 1962-1994. Each volume was indexed and a couple cumulative indexes were published:  

  • Index to Personal Names in the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections,1959-1984. 2 volumes. Alexandria, VA: Chadwyck-Healey, 1988.
  • Index to Subjects and Corporate Names in the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, 1959-1984. 3 volumes. Alexandria, VA: Chadwyck-Healey, 1994.

Accessing the descriptions from NUCMC 
The older printed volumes, printed indexes, and now electronic databases provide entry to NUCMC with its descriptions and locations of specific manuscripts. As of 2013 it had more than 130,000 collection descriptions from 1,800 repositories. You can certainly do a search just using a state or county name, but your results may be numerous. Think along the lines of a keyword search or a limiting search. Instead of looking for just  “railroads” try looking for railroads in Ohio or Pennsylvania. Try sheriff + Green County + Ohio. Some time spent browsing in a couple printed volumes will help you better understand NUCMC.

Electronic format finding aids
The Library of Congress Website offers a free NUCMC search for descriptions of manuscripts submitted 1986 till the present time at

ArchivesUSA™, Publisher Chadwyck-Healey (Now ProQuest) has all NUCMC cataloging from 1959 – 2009 [and later?]  in its electronic publication for libraries, ArchivesUSA™. It is part of Archive Finder <>. It is an expensive database marketed to libraries, historical societies, and archives. It is an easily searchable format; the chore is finding a library that allows patron access to it, but is well worth the search. Individual subscriptions are not offered.

<> This is another way to search for specific records and locations with over five million collection descriptions from repositories all over the world. It includes much from NUCMC plus more descriptions not found in NUCMC.

Worldcat <> is free online and may be accessed from your home  computer. This offers access to catalog listings of thousands of libraries worldwide. The in-library counterpart of Worldcat has some extra features, including advanced search, “Find similar items,” and links to published reviews and excerpts of books. Searches on WorldCat can be limited in several ways by the user, including the category of “Archival material” which includes manuscript collections.

JSTOR. An online resource (aka Journal STORage) that currently features more than 2,000 searchable scholarly journals in several fields including history and other disciplines with articles that are helpful to family historians. One of the great uses I find for these articles is in the footnotes or endnotes of the articles. It’s a great way to pick up a manuscript resource that you might not find in any other way. <> Use your own computer or go through a library for full access. [Through December 2020, JSTOR is allowing 100 free articles to individuals.]

Archives, libraries, and special collection department websites. Check for online digitized guides, pathfinders, inventories, and descriptions of what they hold. It can still be beneficial to do this even if you find something in one of the above electronic finding aids. You may be rewarded with more detailed information.

For optimum research success, I highly recommend checking all of these finding aids for your individuals, families, locations, and types of records.

Note: The figures used in this post are from the respective finding aid websites. Watch for future blog posts about manuscripts.

For optimum research success, I highly recommend checking all of these finding aids for your individuals, families, locations, and types of records.

Note: The figures used in this post are from the respective finding aid websites. Watch for future blog posts about manuscripts.

© 2014 – 2020, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.