Google Books: An Untapped Genealogy Resource
If you’ve done any work on your family history, chances are at some point you’ve tried using a Google search to see if it would come up with information you didn’t already have. However, there is a lot more to researching your ancestors on Google than just typing in their name. One very useful resource is Google Books, and if you haven’t tried using it, you should!
Google Books is essentially a public library right at your fingertips. It’s a collection of digitized books and magazines from around the world that are out of copyright and/or in the public domain. There are hundreds of thousands of books available with varying degrees of accessibility, ranging from a preview only of certain pages, to the entire book – and occasionally a downloadable PDF copy of it as well. The books are text searchable from the comfort of your home computer.
Google has partnered with WorldCat, the world’s most comprehensive database of information about library collections, to help users locate a copy of the books in their database. Libraries around the world use the database and services of The Online Computer Library Center, Inc. or OCLC, as it is more commonly known. If you find a preview of a book during your research but Google does not have the entire book digitized, you will see a hyperlink on the left-hand side of the screen that says, “Find in a library.” This link will take you to a screen that lists libraries that have the book as part of their collection and show you what format the book is in, how far you are from that library, and a link to the library’s webpage. You can then take the information to your local library and place an inter-library loan reservation. Another option is to look for the book you’ve found and purchase your own copy. Ebay, Amazon, AbeBooks, and other such websites may have copies, along with brick-and-mortar bookstores or individual sellers.
Google Books can be a treasure trove of historical publications that can be searched by your ancestor’s name, or by the town, county, or state where your ancestor lived. You might also consider searching for a church or other religious congregation your family may have attended. Numerous compiled court records, patents, and military books have been digitized as well.
Some of the most valuable Google Books finds, however, are county histories. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, publishers throughout the country put out locally-oriented history and biography anthologies. Often these books focused on only one county or a small grouping of them in the same area. While the first half of the books gave geographic, social, economic, political, and religious commentary about the county during that time, the second half usually contained biographical sketches of prominent people from each town in the county, frequently including genealogical data, vital dates, family members, and stories.
While you might not want to completely trust all the dates and information given as fact, these books – and more specifically the biographical sketches – give valuable insight into your ancestors’ lives at that time and in that location. You can determine whether your family is listed in the book by checking the index or performing a CTRL+F text search of the whole volume.
How to Use Google Books for Genealogy Research
First, click the icon for the Google Books search engine on your internet browser, (or go to https://books.google.com/). Start with a narrow search that might have your family name (in various forms), and the town, county, and state where they lived. Once you find a book that looks interesting, look to see if there is a digital copy of it. If there is, click on it and you will find the title information on the left and the words you searched for highlighted on the book page to the right. Once in the book, you can clear out your original search and look for more specific words in the publication such as your family name, or town, or church. On the far right-hand side of the page, you will find a mark for every page the words you’ve searched show up in the book. Be sure to check each page, because you never know what information will be found there.
I have had great success using county history books in particular to learn more about the ancestor I’m researching. I have found two great-grandfathers listed in books in Arkansas and Illinois.
For example, my great-grandfather ran either a lumber mill, (as it has been most commonly referred to in the family), or a sawmill in northeast Arkansas around the 1920s. My father always talked about how he had his own money (tokens) made, and that after he passed away the grandchildren, including my dad, would play with this money. Last year I learned that this was his way of keeping his books. For any of the money that was not spent at his company store, he would go around monthly to the local businesses, pay them with cash, and reclaim his tokens. I was lucky enough to find two tokens while helping a cousin clean out their house, so I knew the family stories were true that there was a business with its own ‘money’, but until recently I had not been able to find out any details about it.
By searching ‘lumber mills Arkansas’, the results brought up the book Arkansas: A Narrative History. Within the book I found the following:
This book helped me understand how and why these lumber businesses were prominent in the location where my family came from and provided me with insight into how and why my great-grandfather might have run such a business – the railroad.
The arrows in the image above point to some of the features previously mentioned in this post.
The next time you research your family, give Google Books a try. Remember that, just like with Google, you will want to search multiple ways to yield the best results. Try looking past just the names and dates for your ancestor to really get to know who they were and how they lived.
Legacy Tree Genealogists has experts trained to know where and how to look for your elusive ancestors, including a variety of tricks and tips on how to use Google searching to its best advantage. We also have agents worldwide who can help obtain records not available online. Contact us today to let us know how we can help you learn more about your personal heritage.