Mini MARS Tutorial

[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.]

As we announced a while ago, a new version of our online catalog, MARS, is available. We have recently done another upgrade of the system so a few new features are available and I am going to explain one of those features in this blog post.

First, if you are someone who does better being able to see what things look like rather than just reading text about it, I’ve made this PDF of screen shots from the MARS search I’m going to do. I’ll periodically mention what page I’m on so that you can follow along with me if you wish. (Go to the Adobe Reader web site if you need to download a PDF viewer.)

Let’s start with a common problem: you want to know what records we have for a particular county. There are a couple of different ways to do that, but the way I’m going to show you uses the Advanced Search screen, which looks like this:

MARS Advanced Search screen

  1. You can select the Advanced Search screen from the box on the right hand side of any search page. It is always the second option. Click on the Advanced Search link if you haven’t already.
  2. Once you are on the Advanced Search screen (page 1 on the PDF), click on the browse button beside Class, Collection, Series (the second option on the web page).
  3. What you will see when you do that is a list of types of materials in our collections (page 2 in the PDF). The list is in alphabetical order, so County Records come after Church Records. Click on the plus sign beside County Records.
  4. When you do that you will expand the County Records list so that you can see the levels beneath it. You will see two lists, both with plus signs beside them – click on the plus sign beside the first list (Alamance County … Warren County) to open that level. What you will see is an alphabetical list of the counties within County Records, beginning with Alamance and ending with Warren (page 3 of the PDF). If you wanted one of the counties that fall after Warren, you would have to expanded the other level under County Records (Washington County … Yancey County).
  5. For this example we are going to look at records from Buncombe County. So in the Alamance County – Warren County list, find Buncombe and click on the small blue box beside it. A green check mark should appear in that box (page 4 of the PDF), which lets you know that you have selected to search in the County Records for Buncombe County.
  6. Click on the “Done” link on the upper left side of the screen to return to the Advanced Search screen (page 5 in the PDF). You will see that the phrase “some County Records” now appears under Class, Collection, Series; this means that you have selected to search a section of the county records. Now, click on the Search button to begin searching MARS.
  7. What you will see after the search completes is the results page (page 6 in the PDF), which will give you about eight pages of materials for Buncombe County – all the materials in that county’s records that have been entered into MARS at this time. If you look at the “Container Type” column of the result screen you will see that all the country records for Buncombe are put into that list regardless of what level they are at – so boxes are listed beside series, etc. You could stop at this point and page through your results using the green arrows at the bottom of the page, all the information would be there. But what if you wanted a clearer picture of how the records for Buncombe County are structured?
  8. Click on the first record on the results page; that will bring up a detail screen for Buncombe County records (page 7 in the PDF) at the Record Group level. Record Groups are the highest level in MARS, they are the large categories that all the other information is organized within (if you ever want a list of the various “Container Types”/levels within MARS, there is a list available through the MARS help pages). This screen will give you more information about the County Records for Buncombe County, including the years of court house fires. Down at the bottom of that page is a link for “Show List of Child Records.” Click on that link.
  9. What you will see is a list (page 8 in the PDF) of all the county records within Buncombe County, from Apprentice Bonds through Miscellaneous Records and Records of Assignees – in other words, from the beginning of the county records from Buncombe County to the end. If you look at the “Container Types” column on this screen you will notice that all of these materials are at the same level – the Series level, which is the level below Record Group.
  10. Find “Minute Docket, Superior Court” (it’s highlighted on page 8 in the PDF) on this results screen. If you look at the “Child Count” column, you will see that there are 4 child records (records a level below the level that you are looking at) for this series. Click on the row for “Minute Docket, Superior Court.” What you will see is the detail screen (page 9 in the PDF) for that series within Buncombe County, which includes a scope/contents note (a description of these records). Only a small portion of the scope note is visible at first when you see the detail screen; this is because some records have very long scope notes and we know that not every researcher will want to scroll through all of that text to get to what they need. However, if you want to read the whole scope note, just click on the link for “View full Scope/Contents.”
  11. Scroll to the bottom of the Minute Docket, Superior Court detail screen and click on “Show List of Child Records.” What you will see when you do that is a list of the four child records for the Minute Docket, Superior Court series (page 10 in the PDF). If you look at the “Container Type” column on this screen you’ll notice that all of these materials are at the box level, a level below series. If you look at the “Child Count” column for the materials listed on this screen you’ll see only zeros in that column; that means that there are no levels below the box level that have been entered into MARS at this time. Also notice that if you ever get lost or confused about what level you are looking at, each page or window has a title. On this screen you can see that the list of boxes within Minute Docket, Superior Court has the title “Child Records of Minute Docket, Superior Court.” Slightly behind that window is another window with the title “Details for – Minute Docket, Superior Court” – that is the screen we looked at previously (page 9 of the PDF), so if you want to go back a level all you have to do is click on the “Details for – Minute Docket, Superior Court” window. You can also close any window by clicking on the small X in the window’s upper right corner.

You can use this technique in all types of records within MARS to find out what we have for a particular type of material and to explore the record levels below the materials that appear in your search results.

Hopefully this explanation will be helpful to many of you doing research within MARS. For those of you who are interested in face-to-face training in searching MARS, we plan to offer training sessions that are open to the public in 2010. Although no specific dates for those training sessions have been set yet, watch this blog and the State Archives website in the coming months for more information.