“I Found 130 Letters by My Ancestor!” Why Use Google Books for Genealogy

Betty has at least 130 good reasons to use Google Books for genealogy! She used this powerful Google tool to find her ancestor’s name in a book–which led to a treasure trove of his original letters in an archive. Here’s what happened–and how to try this with your own family history research. 

You’ve heard me say that Google Books is the tool I turn to every day. Now, you may be thinking, “But my ancestors wouldn’t be in history books!” Resist the temptation to make assumptions about sources, and about your ancestors. With over 25 million books, Google Books is more likely to have something pertinent to your genealogy research than you think. And as I often tell my audiences, those books can include source citations, providing a trail to even more treasures.

Why to Use Google Books for Genealogy: Success Story!

At the National Genealogical Society conference this past spring, Betty attended my class and then stopped by the Genealogy Gems booth to share her story. I recorded it, and here’s a transcription:

Betty: I was stuck on my Duncan Mackenzie ancestor, so I put his name in Google Books, because when you’re stuck, that’s what you do!

Lisa: Yes, I do!

Betty: So, up popped this history of Mississippi, it was sort of a specific history, and it said Duncan Mackenzie had written a letter to his brother-in-law in North Carolina from Covington County, Mississippi. And of course I already had my tax records and my census records that placed him in Covington County. This was in the 1840s. I thought, this just couldn’t be him! Why would any of my relatives be in a book? [Sound familiar?]

So, finally, weeks later, it occurred to me to go back and look at the footnotes in the book, and I found that the letters could be found in the Duncan McLarin papers at Duke University. So, I didn’t even think to even borrow the microfilm. I just told my husband, “next time you go East for work, we need to go by Duke University.” So I set up a time, and I went, and it WAS my great-great-grandfather who wrote those letters! I have now transcribed 130 letters from that collection. They let me scan them all, and I’ve been back again to scan the rest of the legal papers.

Lisa: So, an online search into Google Books not only help you find something online, but it led you to the offline gems!

Betty: And it just changed my life! Because I spend all my time on these letters. It’s distracted me from other lines! [LOL! I get that!]

How to Use Google Books for Genealogy

Are you ready to put Google Books to work in your own research and discover some genealogy gems of your own? Here, I re-create Betty’s search for you, so you can see how to get started:

1. Go to Google Books (books.google.com). Enter search terms that would pertain to your ancestor, like a name and a place.

2. Browse the search results. The first three that show up here all look promising. Click on the first one.

3. Review the text that comes up in the text screen. As you can see here, Duncan McKenzie of Covington County is mentioned–and the source note at the bottom of the page tells you that the original letter cited in the book is at Duke University.

Learn More about Using Google Books for Genealogy

Learn more by watching my free Google Books video series at the Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel. Click the video below to watch the first one. (And be sure to subscribe while you’re there, because there are more videos to come!)

Then, watch the video below for a quick preview of my full one hour video class (and downloadable handout) called Google Books: The Tool You Need Every Day!, available to all Genealogy Gems Premium Members.

Bust a Brick Wall by Speaking Google’s Language

bust a brick wall by speaking Google's language

Bust a genealogy brick wall by learning to speak Google’s language. Proper use of Google’s basic search operators will have you plowing through walls in your research in nothing flat! 

Genealogy information is sprinkled across the millions of websites on the web. Whether it’s a digital image of your great-great grandma on a distant cousins website or an out-of-print history book listed in the online card catalog in a library on the other side of the globe. Google can help you find it all.

Gaining access to that information is not as hard as you may think. I’d like to share a question I received recently from a Genealogy Gems Podcast listener, and show you how you can bust a brick wall by speaking Google’s language.

Here’s the email that I received from Ruth last week:

I’m sitting here listening to one of your free podcasts…I’m working, I’m listening, and I’m thinking…about my brick wall James Craig, what I know and what I’m trying to find out!

I know that James Craig was born about 1795-97 in New Jersey and was at Ft. Jesup, Louisiana in 1823, [and] that he was discharged in 1825. I researched New Jersey military records and found a James Craig, from Pittsgrove, Salem, New Jersey, who joined the Army [in] August 1820 for five years [and] he was sent to Fort Scott, Georgia. I read articles that state, when Fort Scott closed sometime around 1822/23, the men were sent to Fort Smith, Arkansas. Do you see the trail I’m following? It’s not hard to make the connection from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Fort Jesup, Louisiana. My problem is that I haven’t found any transfer papers!! So, how do I verify that James Craig from Pittsgrove, New Jersey is my 3rd great-grandfather. Is it possible that there are journals from the commanding officer of each encampment that might shed some light on this? 

Thanks in advance for any thoughts you might have on this long standing brick wall!

Tips to Bust a Genealogy Brick Wall

Ruth asked “Is it possible that there are journals from the commanding officer of each encampment that might shed some light on this?” I certainly think it is possible! I would suggest using Google to search the web because such items might be digitized online, or they might be listed on a library or archive website as being available at their location. Either way, you would gain valuable information on how to access the items.

Here’s an example of a search I would run:

google search strategies for genealogy

 

This search is based on my Google Excellent Method Search Let’s break down the pieces of this search query:

The quotation marks tell Google that the word or phrase must be in every search result (in other words, they are mandatory.) When used around a phrase, that means the phrase must appear exactly as searched.

The asterisk tells Google there might be a word or two between the words in a phrase, such as a middle initial.

By putting OR between two versions of the phrases, such as last name first and first name first, you cover all your bases. Note that the word OR must be capitalized to work as a Google operator.

Finally, two numbers separated by 2 dots is called a “numrange search” and that tells Google a number that falls within that range must appear in each search result. And of course, four digit numbers represent years to genealogists!

Your Genealogy Google Guru

Google packs a powerful punch for genealogists. Let me be your Genealogy Google Guru and watch my video below for even more helpful tips and tricks. Remember to subscribe to my Genealogy Gems YouTube channel so you’ll get all my upcoming Google video tips. Happy searching!

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 254

How to Use Google Photos for Family History

Have you thought about using Google Photos but just weren’t sure how it worked or where to start? This episode will answer your questions and give you the confidence to use it effectively. In this audio introductory tour to Google Photos we will answer the questions:

  • What is Google Photos? Is Google Photos private?
  • What features do I get with Google Photos?
  • How does Google Photos storage work? (Is Google Photos free?)
  • How do I start using Google Photos?
  • How do I upload my photos and videos?
  • How to search and retrieve photos and videos in Google Photos How would Google Photos benefit genealogists, archivists and others?

This audio comes from my YouTube video series Elevenses with Lisa episode 23.

Listen to the Podcast Episode

To Listen click the media player below (AUDIO ONLY):

Watch the Original Video:

 

Genealogy Gems Premium Members Exclusive Download:

Log into your Premium membership and then click here to download the handy PDF show notes that compliment this podcast episode. 

Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member

Premium Members have exclusive access to:

  • Video classes and downloadable handouts
  • The Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast
  • Elevenses with Lisa downloadable ad-free show notes PDF cheat sheets

Become a member here.

Genealogy Gems Podcast App

Don’t miss the Bonus audio for this episode. In the app, tap the gift box icon just under the media player. Get the app here

Get the Free Genealogy Gems Newsletter

The Genealogy Gems email newsletter is the best way to stay informed about what’s available with your Premium eLearning Membership. Sign up today here.

Our Sponsor:

MyHeritage: Click here to start finding your family history at MyHeritage

 

MyHeritage

MyHeritage is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Visit www.MyHeritage.com

 

Follow Lisa and Genealogy Gems on Social Media:

Podcast Resources

Download the episode mp3
Show Notes: The audio in this episode comes from Elevenses with Lisa Episode 23. Visit the show notes page here.

Pin It on Pinterest

MENU