Online Catalog FAQ

This Frequently Asked Questions page addresses aspects of the Discover Online Catalog (DOC) which may be unclear to new users. Further guides and tutorials on using DOC are also in development.

Please select a tab that most closely addresses your question. If you prefer step by step instructions on searching for specific records or topics, please visit the DOC Search Guides.

Tab/Accordion Items

How do I search the catalog?

We recommend using Chrome when searching DOC. To conduct a search, enter the words you want to search for in the search box beside the word Find. Click Enter or click on the magnifying glass and your search will begin. 

To search using the advanced search options, click on the link below the basic search box that reads Show advanced search options. Several searches for specific fields will appear below the basic search.  

What do the advanced search fields mean?

An advanced search will look for your query within the field specified across all the records in our catalog. You can use a combination of advanced search queries in addition to a keyword search and search facets to return very specific results.

  • Record ID (search for exact match id) – A Record ID is a call number. If you know the call number of exactly what you are looking for, enter it here. Make sure it matches exactly though or you won’t find what you need!
  • Title – This will search for your text in the titles of all the catalog records.
  • Subjects – This will search for your text in the subject headings attached to catalog records. 
  • Land Grants – This field is special. It will search the indexed land grants found in Record ID: SR.12.7.3, which is part of the land grants found in the Secretary of State Record Group. It will search text found in the following land grant fields: Acres, Grant No., Warrant No., Issued date, Entry No., Entered date, Surveyed date, Book, Page, Location, and Remarks. If you want to search by a person’s name, use the Title advanced search field instead of this one.
  • Creator – This field will search based on the creators of records. Enter free text or click the magnifying glass to only search for creators that already exist in our catalog.
  • Format – This field will only search for records of a specific format. Use the drop-down arrow to pick from a selection of formats.
  • Record between dates – Use these fields to look for records from a certain time period. Make sure you enter a date in the format MM/DD/YYYY or click the field to bring up a calendar and select the date you need. You can use one date field to conduct open ended searches or both to limit your results to a specific date range.

What do the sort order options mean?

In a drop-down list above your search results are options for how to sort your results:

  • By Relevance – The catalog determines relevancy by identifying where in the catalog record the term you search for appears. Higher relevancy is given to words found in the Title field of a record, followed by the Scope Notes and Subject Headings, and then by all the other notes the record may have. 
  • By Creator’s Name – Sort the results alphabetically by the name of the Creator
  • By Record ID – Sort the results based on the Record ID (aka the call number) of the records.
  • By Title – Sort the results alphabetically by the Title field. 
  • By Hierarchy – This option groups results from the same collection or record group together in your search results. This option is useful if you want to see all results from a set of records at one time. 

I’ve got my search results. What does all this information mean?

Once you do a search, the catalog will present you with the results in a list. Each result lists the following information, if it’s available:

  • Title of the Materials – The title for the series, box, item, or other level of materials is listed first. The title is also a link; if you click on it, you’ll be taken to the catalog entry for those materials. 
  • Creator – The Creator of the records.
  • Date – If there is a date listed for this set of materials, it will be displayed in the upper right corner of each search result. 
  • Record ID – This is the call number of the records.
  • Descriptive note - If the materials in your search results have a Scope and Content, Abstract, or other note describing the content, the first few words of that information will appear between Record ID and the View finding aid link.
  • View finding aid – If the records have a finding aid, a link to that finding aid will appear in the search results.  
  • Parent Records – If the materials are part of a group of records, this will show all the levels above materials in your search result.

My search brought back more results than I have time to look through. How do I narrow things down to just what I need?

If your search is generating too many results, try again using a different keyword, adding some facets to your search, or using advanced search fields. Keywords can be important – your results may be reduced just by using a slightly different word or phrase! Search facets are located at the left side of the screen – simply click one to narrow down your results by repository, creator type, collection and more. You can also try searching specific fields by using the advanced search options. Use one or a combination of these techniques to find the records you are looking for.

How do I take a closer look at a set of materials in my search results?

Click the title of the record you are interested in. This will take you to the bibliographic record entry, showing you all of the information we have in the catalog about this record. From here you can look at other records within the hierarchy of the collection your record belongs to, or you can click your browser’s back button to return to your search results. 


How do I return to the basic search screen?

Click on the link that reads Series Home on the upper left of the screen. If Series Home doesn’t appear on the page, refreshing your browser will bring you back to the basic search screen. Note that this only works in Chrome and other browsers may behave differently. 


How do I move between the levels of an archival record?

Records are often organized into hierarchies within a single collection. There are couple of ways to move around those hierarchies in DOC. If the record you are viewing is a higher level record, you can click Child Records to view its children as a list. From there, click the Series Title to view that record’s descriptive information. If the record you are viewing is a lower level record, you will see its parent records listed as links underneath the record’s Title. For example, this record occurs at the 3rd level of the Surry County hierarchy, but it also has some additional lower level records that you can click to explore.

Screenshot of Surry county catalog entry, indicating which section contains the parent records and which contains the child records.

This record has a list of containers. What does that mean?

Some records will include a list of containers. These represent our physical holdings for that series. You can click on an item in the list to view more information about that container. In this example, you can see that we have 86 boxes of records belonging to this series! We even have arrangement information such as date ranges and names for each box.

Screenshot of Secretary of State catalog entry showing that it has containers with arrangement information.


If the record you are looking at does not have a list of containers, do not fear – we probably just haven’t added container information to the catalog for that series yet. We are continuously working on adding descriptive container information to the catalog to make requesting specific items easier than ever. As always, if you have questions about our holdings, just reach out to our reference archivists who would be happy to assist you.

What is the difference between the finding aids and the catalog records?

Finding aids in DOC are automatically generated using the same exact information that is found in the catalog. The system takes that information and reformats it slightly so it is easier to see the overall hierarchy of a collection without multiple clicks. It also makes it easier to print information about a collection. However, they may not contain all the highly detailed notes about individual items that the catalog contains. If you find something that interests you in a collection’s finding aid, we suggest you also navigate to that record in the catalog to see if there is any additional information there that is of interest.


Why doesn’t every collection have a finding aid in DOC?

Finding aids are a great entry point to understanding the hierarchy of a collection but may not contain all the descriptive information about a record that can be found in the catalog itself. For this reason, not every collection in DOC will have a link to a finding aid. 

Additionally, some older collections may have finding aids that do not exist in DOC because the information may be outdated. You can still view these legacy finding aids online in our digital collections if you are interested. 


This finding aid looks odd. What’s going on?

You may notice that the style of our finding aids has recently gotten a facelift, which is great! However, the newness also means that there are some formatting quirks that we are still working on ironing out. If the finding aid you are looking at seems weird, we suggest looking at the collection in our catalog instead. You can also send your concerns to Thank you for your patience as we continue to work toward improving access to our collections!


What do I do once I find something and want to see the actual records?

If you plan to visit us in person to view the materials, please note the Title and Record ID of the collection, series, or record you are interested in and bring that with you to the Search Room. If you have located a specific container you would like to see, you can also bring us the Container ID.

Don't you have any records that I can look at online?

Yes! A selection of archival materials are available to view online in the North Carolina Digital Collections. If you are looking for photographs, our Special Collections staff have loaded some photos into Flickr


If I didn’t find what I was looking for, does that mean you don’t have it?

It could mean many things. We could have the materials, but we’ve described them using different words than you’ve used to search for them. It could be that the materials you’re looking for haven’t been entered into the catalog yet, as might be the case with newly transferred or acquired materials. If in doubt, please contact our reference staff.  


I'm confused about what you have. Can I talk to someone?

Of course. You can email us at, or you can contact reference staff at all three of our public research facilities: