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Finding Older Medical Indexes in Print: Home

Using Older Medical Indexes In Print

When looking for old medical books and articles in old medical journals, you sometimes need to turn to the old stand-bys: the Index-Catalogue of the Surgeon General’s Office, Index Medicus, and an assortment of other medical indexes. The Mulford Library has an almost complete run of all of the relevant indexes, and this help sheet will help you make sense of them so that you can find what you need with a minimum of effort.  All volumes are located in the Library’s Reference Collection unless otherwise noted.

If assistance is needed, contact a Health Science librarian:

General Notes:

Searching by subject:

Unlike the sophisticated subject indexing that we find in MEDLINE and other databases, subject indexing in these older print indexes can be very poor.  In many indexes, references were included under a single subject heading. Some indexes, like the Quarterly Cumulative Index Medicus, provide guidance as to how subject headings were applied; most do not.  Subject headings tend to be much too broad and applied haphazardly - there were few, if any, professional indexers working on these indexes.

General search hint #1:

Generate a broad list of terms you could use to search; then search them all, as not all relevant articles will be found together under the same heading.

General search hint #2:

Some indexes have cross-references (so when you look up the wrong word or name, the index points you to the correct word or name), but these cross-references vary in degree and quality.

On alphabetization:

There are two main ways of alphabetization: letter-by-letter and word-by-word.  A letter-by-letter arrangement puts Occupational Therapy before Occupation Forces (because A comes before F in the alphabet).  A word-by-word arrangement puts Occupation Forces before Occupational Therapy (because nothing comes before something). Hyphenated words and names tend to be alphabetized oddly.

On interfiling:

Some indexes have separate sections for the author index and the subject index. An interfiled index means that the author and subject listings have been combined into a single index.

On time coverage:

Some indexes, like the Index-Catalogue, provide information about a collection, and the date on the volumes does not correspond to the publication dates of the references indexed.  Even indexes that attempt to be current, however, sometimes lag behind.

General search hint #3:

Search volumes published after the date of interest, even those that claim to be current.

Table of Indexes


Content Indexed

Time Period Indexed

How the index is arranged

Index Catalog:

First and Second Series

The collection of the library of the Surgeon General’s office, including books, articles, pamphlets.

Includes a list of journals indexed.

Cannot judge the time coverage by the date on the volume.

First-author and subject interfiled (anonymous works listed by first key word in title).  Within a subject, books are listed first, then articles (which are in a smaller font, with all of them together in a paragraph).

Journal articles are not indexed by author, only by subject.

Alphabetical arrangement: letter-by-letter

Index Catalog:

Third and Fourth  Series

Still the collection of the library of the Surgeon General’s office.

Fourth series includes a list of medical congresses

Cannot judge the time coverage by the date on the volume.

Beginning in 1926, materials indexed by subject were not current; author entries for monographs and theses are up-to-date. Materials from 1926- 1932 were included in some of the fourth series.

Journal articles are not indexed by author, only by subject.

Alphabetical arrangement: letter-by-letter

Index Catalog:

Fifth Series

This three-volume set was designed to address the backlog of monographic materials for the Index-Catalogue (books, theses, project reports, analytics, catalogs, legislative materials, etc.) that are not indexed in the Armed Forces Library Catalog.


1800-1950, mostly later material

One volume is an interfiled author-title listing (by personal author, by corporate author, and by title for anonymous works). The other two volumes have material indexed by subject.

For the first time in the Index-Catalogue, materials in the subject index are indexed under more than one subject heading.  They are also indexed under both first and second authors.

Alphabetical arrangement: word-by-word


Index Medicus

Index Medicus supplemented the Index-Catalogue with current materials: “all new materials… received the preceding month.”  Included articles from journals, society transactions, books, pamphlets, etc. Began focused on medicine and surgery, but gradually included more subjects.

Series I: 1879-1899

Bibliographia Medica fills the gap between these two series.

Series II: 1903-1916

Series III: 1921-1927

The Mulford Library has years 1903-16 of series two.  The Mulford Library does not own Series III; the UM Taubman Library has it.

Entries classified by subject.  Within each subject classification, books and other monographs are listed first; articles from journals are listed last, in a paragraph.

Issues are bound in order; use the cumulative author and subject indexes in the back of the volume.

Alphabetical arrangement: word-by-word


Indexes articles published in many languages. Titles of most of the articles are in their original languages (including English). Article titles in languages using non-Roman, non-Greek alphabets have been translated into French.



This set of three volumes in French covers the period of time when there was no funding for Index Medicus in the US

Author index in back of each volume. Classified by numerical codes. In the front of the volume, there is a general scheme of the classification. In the back of the volume is a “subject” finder that helps identify the appropriate medical science section of the classification scheme.  For example, if you needed to find articles on breast surgery, look up:  Gland mammaire (Chir.)   8.19, then turn to section 618.19 to find articles on the topic.

Alphabetical arrangement: letter-by-letter

Quarterly Cimmulative Index to Current Medical Literature

Indexes “original articles” from about 300 key medical periodicals. Not intended to be a complete index to the literature.

Each volume begins with lists of books and government documents published during the year.





Authors and subject interfiled in a single index. Article titles are not included, however, each entry by author includes a general subject; each entry by subject includes the first author’s last name.

Subject searching:

§  Local diseases/injuries are indexed by organ or body region; general diseases/ injuries are under disease/injury

§  Action/administration of drug, indexed under drug name; use of drug to treat a disease, indexed under the disease

Alphabetical arrangement: word-by-word

Quarterly Cimmulative Index Medicus

Result of the merger of the Quarterly Cum Index and the Index Medicus.

Indexes “original articles, biographical material, and other medical literature of importance”

Each volume includes lists of books published during the year (by author and by subject).




Authors and subject interfiled. Subject entries do not include the title, but do include the authors’ names. Biographies and obituaries are indexed as such and also under the name.

References indexed under both author and subject.

Alphabetical arrangement: word-by-word

Current List of Medical Literature

Published weekly; indexes journals not included in Quarterly Cum Index Medicus.

Selected articles listed within a classed list of journal titles.

At the end of each year, there are lists of recent book acquisitions of the Army Medical Library or recent US publications.


THE MULFORD LIBRARY has 1941-1950 (vol. 1-18) and 1957-1959 (vol. 31-36). 

1951-1956 (vol. 19-30) are available at the Taubman Medical Library at UM.

Journals classed by broad subjects (found on the front of each issue), and selected articles from that journal’s issue are listed in page number order.

Vol. 1-8: end-of-volume subject index

Vol. 9-17: monthly/bimonthly subject index

Vol. 18- : monthly subject & author indexes

Index form varies: by column number. column depth number/letter or, later, by reference number

Alphabetical arrangement: word-by-word

Cumulated Index Medicus

The first of the medical indexes that was created by “mechanical composition methods” (read: IBM cards/sorters and a Listomatic camera!). Covers a broad range of health care subjects.


In 2000, the Cumulated IM was no longer published, leaving only the monthly volumes; publication of the monthly Index Medicus ceased in 2004.

Two sections per year: author index and a subject index.

Articles about an individual (biography, obituary, etc.) are in the subject volume.

Alphabetical arrangement: word-by-word

Bibliography of Medical Previews

Cumulated collection of reviews published in the Current List of Medical Literature and Index Medicus. Also includes reviews not found in these sources.


1955-1961;              1966- 1980

Mulford Library  volumes are found in the circulating collection: Z6660 B5817

1955 - 1970: subject index only

1971 - 1980: separate subject and author indexes

Alphabetical arrangement: word-by-word

Original content created by Jolene Miller and Maria Melsson

Reminder: Online Sources to Search Older Medical Literature

The National Library of Medicine has a couple of projects that make it easier to find older medical literature: