New MARS and Frequently Asked Questions

[Note, April 27, 2010 – Some issues addressed in this blog post were fixed in late 2009 and early 2010 updates to MARS. Please consult more recent blog posts for updated information or email or call us if you have questions.]

You may have noticed that our online catalog, MARS, has changed. One of the reasons that you haven’t seen a big announcement about this is that we’re still adding features and working through the kind of issues that inevitably come up with any new system. But we’ve begun to get questions from some of you about the new system and those questions are starting to fall into some very predictable patterns. So, I decided to write up a quick introduction to the new MARS and a brief FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions). Expect a more formal announcement from the Archives on this subject in the coming weeks, but until then hopefully this list will be useful to most of you.

First of all, we have help screens for MARS now, something that we did not have the option for before. We are still in the process of writing these help pages, but the help screens for the results page, basic search and advanced search are all available now. To reach the help screens from MARS, just click on the “Help” link that appears near the top of every page. Each Help link takes you to the section of the help document pertinent to the screen you are currently viewing – so if you click on “Help” from the Basic Search screen you’ll be taken directly to the help information for Basic Search. To view the help pages now you can use this link: The help pages are actually a single long document so you can scroll through and find the answers that you need.

Most of the questions that we’ve been answering lately are addressed on the help screens, so please take a look at them. If you have questions that are not addressed there, please let us know.

Other things to remember:

  1. You have three search options: Basic Search, Advanced Search, and Call Number Search. We suggest that most people start with Basic Search – it allows you to search the entire MARS catalog for a word or phrase, which is particularly helpful if you aren’t sure what we have in our collections or are just beginning your research. Advanced Search allows you to search a combination of different fields in MARS and it is a great search option when you receive lots of results using Basic Search. However, to be able to use Advanced Search effectively you will need to understand what kind of information is in each field. The help screens for Advanced Search include a field by field description and instructions for using each of them. Call Number Search is wonderful if you have a call number for a particular item and don’t want to do a broad search to find it again.
  2. To search a phrase, put quotation marks (“) around the phrase. If you put in two (or more) words into most of the fields in MARS without quotation marks then they will be searched as separate words. So, a search for Mark Smith will return all the results for Mark and Smith within MARS, while a search for “Mark Smith” will only return results for that name.
  3. Search broadly to begin with and narrow down as needed. I’d say that about 50% of the problems people are having are because they have limited their searches to a very small group of records in our collections and, when no results are found in that small group, then folks either get frustrated or assume we don’t have any information on a topic. To search broadly start on the Basic Search screen, type in a simple word or phrase into the “Search Text” box (for example, start with a person’s name or county name or type of record) and do not use the browse option for “Class, Collection, Series” – then either hit “Enter” on your keyboard or click on the “Search” button with your mouse. If that gives you too many results or you don’t find what you need, then consider typing in a more specific word or phrase, use the “Class, Collection, Series” browse option to limit where in the catalog you’re searching, or use the Advance Search screen.
  4. The browse option for “Class, Collection, Series” does not actually take you to any records right now; it is only used to limit where you’re searching in the catalog. So you would use browse if you knew you wanted to search in County Records and not State Agency Records, for example, but you would still need to return to either the Basic Search screen or Advanced Search screen in order to actually do a search and see any records. Just remember, the more you limit where you search the fewer results you are likely to get.
  5. Do not panic – the Mitchell Will Index is still available. It was listed under State Records, an error that has been corrected. If you are looking for the Mitchell Will Index, it is now listed under County Records.
  6. If you do a search and are confused by what your search results mean, consult the search result help screen. There is a column by column breakdown of search results including lists of the options for “Class” and “Container Type.”
  7. If you take your mouse and hover your pointer over one of the rows in the results screen, a little box of information will appear; that box tells you where in our collection that record is located. So, for example, let’s say that in your list of results you have a County Record that only has a person’s name in the title column; if you hover your pointer over that record the box will tell you what county that record is in and what subdivision under that county it’s in (for example: “Cohabitation Bonds” or “Miscellaneous Land Records” or “Marriage Registers”). This is a new feature that just came online late last week so it is not part of the help screens yet.
  8. If you want more information about any records in your results, just click on them. What you will see is a pop-up screen with detailed information about that record including: Provenance (which outlines where that item is in our collection and is the same information available when you hover your mouse pointer over that record on your result screen); Title; Years (that the record was created); Creator (if there is one); Call Number; Location; MARS Id.; Materials (format of the records, which can include anything from letters to photographs, etc.); Quantity (how many items, boxes, etc.), Scope/Contents (where archivists often write a short description of the record); a list of index terms, or subject headings, that describe the record – basically how that record is indexed in MARS; and then some other information about the record. From that details page, you can click forward and backwards through your results by clicking on the “Previous” and “Next” links on the upper right-hand portion of the pop-up. If you want to go back to your results screen you just click on the small “X” in the red bar of the pop-up – that will close the pop-up.

Hopefully this brief list will help most of you navigate the new system. And, as I said, watch this blog and the Archives website for further announcements.