Google Books Just Got WAY Better! New Features Tutorial

Show Notes: I’m excited to share with you my favorite new tool at Google Books. This is a game changer for utilizing the information you find on the digitized pages. Plus I’ll show you other new features recently added to Google Books

Why use Google Books for genealogy? Well, Google Books features over 10 million free digitized books, most of which were published prior to 1927. That makes Google Books a gold mine for genealogy research. And when you visit Google Books, think “published on paper” NOT just books! In addition to books, the collection includes newspapers, magazines, journals, almanacs, city directories, catalogs, court papers and so much more!

Watch the Video

Why use Google Books for genealogy?

Google Books features over 10 million free digitized books, most of which were published prior to 1927. That makes Google Books a gold mine for genealogy research. And when you visit Google Books, think “published on paper” NOT just books! In addition to books, the collection includes newspapers, magazines, journals, almanacs, city directories, catalogs, court papers and so much more!

SHOW NOTES

Access Google Books at https://books.google.com

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members.

Filter to Free books only

  1. Conduct a search.
  2. On the results page look for the filter menu. If you don’t see it, click the Tools
  3. Click the down arrow for Any View
  4. Click Full View
  5. Now your results list only include free fully digitized materials.

If you haven’t been over to Google books for a while, this is going to look a little bit different. A while back they launched a new user interface. They’ve now made some improvements. The main difference is we’re going to see this menu along the bottom of the screen.

My favorite new feature: convert image to text

Before we even look at the new menu, I promised you my favorite item that they have added to Google Books.

In the upper left corner, click the three vertical dots icon. This reveals a menu that gives you access to a lot of items that typically are kind of ‘behind’ the book. If you were to close this book, you would see the catalog entry for it.

New menu at Google Books

New menu at Google Books

My favorite new feature here is View as Plain Text. Click the toggle button to convert the entire book to plain text. This makes the digitized images of the pages usable in many other projects and programs. Google applied optical character recognition to the books to be able to read the words on the images to make the books keyword searchable. In the past, we had to use the clipper tool to capture a bit of the image and convert it to text. The box was really small and inconvenient. This new feature provides the ability to instantly use as much of the text as you want.

Convert image to text new feature in Google Books

Convert digitized books to text in Google Books

Because this book is fully digitized, it’s already been cleared for copyright. These books are in the public domain. They are available to use for free, copyright free. You are free to copy the text and include it in your projects, in your genealogy database, in a family history book, and so on.

Download a book

Back over at the three-dot menu in Google Books, you can also:

  • download the book as a PDF or EPUB for free,
  • find the book in a store, if you need a hard copy
  • find the book in a library at WorldCat.

Keyboard Shortcuts Hot Keys

Another new feature is keyboard shortcuts.

Google Books shortcuts hot keys

Google Books shortcuts / hot keys

Find Book Catalog Entry

I mentioned that the catalog entry for this book is sort of ‘behind’ the book. To access that, click the X in the upper right corner of the screen. This removes the view of the book. We haven’t lost access to the book. You can still access it by clicking the blue Read free of charge button.

The nice thing about the book catalog entry page is that it contains all the details about the book such as where you can purchase it, finding copies at the library, and additional editions.

Source Citation Tool at Google Books

Also on the catalog entry page is the Source Citation tool. Click create citation to reveal the options. Click the desired style, and then copy the citation and paste it in your family tree database, or other places where you are referencing this book. So, there’s no reason not to cite your source for any book found at Google Books. Source citation is very important, because down the road you might discover something more about your family and realize that you need to access that book again. Without the source citation you may not remember where you got the original information. The source citation is your breadcrumb trail back to the previous research that you’ve done. Also, if anybody ever has a question about what you have put in your family tree, you can point them to the sources that you used.

New Google Books Menu

The final new feature at Google Books that I wanted to draw your attention to  is the main menu for this item. It used to be at the top of the screen, but now you’ll find it at the bottom. At the top of the screen, we now have a search box that allows you to search the entire Google Books collection. But oftentimes, when you’re looking at a book, you’re going to want to be able to search for particular names, places, dates, events, topics. You will find the search field for that in the new menu at the bottom of the screen. Type in names or other words and press enter. You’ll be given all of the pages in the book that mention those words. Also, in this menu are:

  • zoom buttons,
  • chapters menu (if available for the book you are viewing)
  • page views (single, side by side or thumbnails.)

Clip and download an image from a book

Also in the new menu is the clipper tool. The materials in Google Books contain maps, drawings, photos and many other types of imagery that you may want a copy of. Or perhaps you just want an image of a section of text. The clipper tool allows you to capture it and save it to your computer as an image file.

  1. Click the scissors icon, and your mouse cursor will turn into a clipper.
  2. Draw a box around the desired area
  3. In the pop-up box click to copy the link to the clipped image.
  4. Open a new web browser tab and paste the link. (You can also paste the link into notes in your family tree, and other programs and documents.)
  5. Press enter and the image will appear in the browser tab.
  6. Right-click on the image.
  7. Select Save Image As to save it to your computer’s hard drive.

There you have it, some of the exciting new features over at Google Books. There’s never been a better time to search for information about your family history in Google Books.

Resources

Solutions for Broken Website Links

Every genealogist has experienced the frustration of clicking on a link and discovering that the page is gone or the resource is now defunct. Things change rapidly as technology evolves, so it’s a problem that isn’t going away any time soon.

Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners often ask what to do when they run across a broken or defunct website in the show notes of older episodes of The Genealogy Gems Podcast. I’ve got answers for you today that can help you get back on track whenever this happens to you. 

broken genealogy website links solutions

I received this email from a listener of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast, and it’s one I’ve received from lots of listeners and genealogists alike:

“As one of your podcast listeners who is working my way through past episodes, I am running into a bit of frustration that I am wondering if you, on someone else reading this, can help me on. I have tried to get to a couple of websites that guests of yours mentioned, with no success. (I’m listening to episodes from) 2010, where I am at now, (and that) may not be all that long ago for many, but it is an eon in internet terms.

Are you, or anybody else reading this, aware of any person or site tracking genealogy related websites that records/posts notations of name changes, buy-outs by other service providers, or just plain disappearances? You might have mentioned some in the interim, but I’m still a hundred episodes in arrears.”

That’s the wonderful thing about podcasts, you can listen when the episode is published or even a decade later. That’s because podcasts, unlike radio shows, are recordings that you can access whenever it’s convenient for you. But my listener is correct, things change quickly online, and that includes website links I refer to in the show notes web pages of older episodes.

How to Find Information When a Website has Disappeared

I love hearing that listeners are enjoying the free Genealogy Gems Podcast archive. We hear over and over that our listeners pick up something new each time they listen. However, I completely understand the frustration of encountering defunct websites and resources. What a bother they are!

Unfortunately with the speed at which online information changes, it’s just about as impossible to keep years of web content current (while still producing new content) as it is finding a genealogy record that burned in a courthouse fire!

The good news is that with a little persistence, you can probably locate where a source has moved to or find alternatives that may provide the same function. Paying attention to clues and details around the original source itself can lead you to alternatives that can accomplish the same goals or provide the same or similar information. And of course, tracking down information that’s gone missing is certainly a valuable skill in all areas of genealogy!

Here are a few great strategies to help you find information when a website has disappeared:

1. The Wayback Machine Can Find Defunct Sites

1) If you run across a link to a now defunct site, copy the website link. Next, go to the Internet Archive at https://web.archive.org and paste the web address that you copied into the Wayback Machine search field. Press enter on your keyboard to run the search on that address. You may very likely be able to retrieve a screenshot of the page.

Internet Archive Wayback Machine

If you’ve been researching your family history for several years, you’ll probably recognize the screenshot of World Vital Records (below) at the Wayback Machine.

wayback-machine-result

You may not gain access to everything that was there originally, but you’ll very likely glean clues that you can use to find the information you seek on another website using a Google search.

One of the features most recently added to the Wayback Machine is the Save Page Now tool. This helps you capture web pages and add them to the Wayback Machine at the time that you find them. That way, even if the site goes away, you’ll have a copy of the web page for future reference.

This tool works on any web page that allows “crawlers”, which most sites do. Crawlers are used by sites like Google and the Wayback Machine to index information and capture the pages. 

save this page Wayback Machine

To save a web page using the Wayback Machine, copy the web page’s address and paste it into the Save Page Now field. It will bring up the page in your browser and show you that it’s being processed and will be added to the Wayback Machine.

The page will be conveniently stamped with the date that it was captured. This is helpful because even though websites may stay online for years to come, the content on their pages may be changed over time. By using the Save Page Now feature and adding the web page to the Wayback Machine, you will be able to revisit the information that was on that page on that specific date well into the future, regardless of changes that may be made to it over time.

2. Google Your Question

You’ve heard me say it many times: Just Google it! And that certainly applies here. Google is great at finding alternative sources for the same information. No question is a dumb question when it comes to Google. 

If you are running into a challenge with a defunct site or have a question, chances are someone else has had the same question! It may have been posted on a message forum, a blog post or the help section of a website. Google can help you find the question and the answers that were provided. 

Let’s say you come across a link to the World Vital Records website in the syllabus of a class you took several years ago. (If you’ve been researching your family history for a while, then you probably remember this genealogy records website.) And imagine that when you type the link into your web browser, you discover that the link is broken and the website no longer exists.   

Here’s an example of what you could ask Google in order to find out what has happened to the World Vital Records website:

  • When did world vital records close?
  • Sunset notice for World Vital Records  
  • Who acquired World Vital Records?

world vital records search

As you can see in the example search in the image above, the sunset notice for World Vital Records, which was acquired by MyHeritage, was issued in September of 2018. Click the link to the article to read up on all the details. 

When faced with a broken link your first impulse may be to ask another person or someone you see as an expert on the subject. That can work too, but chances are they may just ask you “did you Google it?” That’s because, like it or not, Googling at the moment you have the question is much faster and provides you with the latest information.

Think of Google as asking your question to every single web page in the world – all at once. If the answer is out there, Google can probably find it.

3. Google the Content 

As I said, the internet is growing and changing every day and it is very possible you may find the content is now available elsewhere.

Any good source that provides website URLs will usually include information about what you’ll find on that website. You can use that information to run a Google search. Your goal is to determine if the information you seek is available elsewhere from the same provider, or identify another website that references the same content.

Start by copying short phrases of key information and pasting it into the Google search box. Put quotation marks around the text. Quotation marks are a standard Google search operator and they will tell Google to search for web pages that include that exact phrase, sentence or paragraph. (Quotation marks also work on individual words such as surnames.) If you don’t get an exact search result, remove the quotation marks and place them just around the most important individual key words.

Here’s an example of how this works:

In Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 62 (published back in 2009) I talked with actor Darby Hinton about a new history-themed television series he was producing called Hintons Living History. The show notes include a link to the website devoted to the show. Clicking that link leads to an error page because the website has since been taken down. (For website publishers like myself, we are often faced with the decision between creating new content, or constantly combing through old published content to fix what is out of date. I think you will agree that continuing to create new content is preferable.)

Since the link no longer works, a Google search of the name of the television show in quotation marks (“Hintons Living History”) provides a plethora of information and videos to learn more about the show.

Obvious, But Not Always 

While the solutions I’ve shared here may seem somewhat obvious, time and time again I’ve watched people get befuddled by running into broken genealogy website links. It’s totally understandable. In the excitement of the moment of finding something interesting, getting stopped in your tracks by a broken links creates frustration. Our brains tend to focus on that obstacle and frustration rather than the simple solutions that are available.

Now you have a game plan that you can use so that broken links will only be a blip on your genealogical research path.

This article was originally written in January 2019, and extensively updated August 6, 2019. Can you find the old version on the Wayback Machine?

Lisa Louise CookeAbout the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google ToolboxMobile GenealogyHow to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and columnist for Family Tree Magazine.

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