“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.

Ancestry.com Search Features Get an Update

Like anyone else who sells a popular product, Ancestry.com is always tweaking little things to improve the user’s experience. They’ve been working on some updates, some of which you may have noticed on the site over the summer and some of which are rolling out gradually over the next couple of weeks:

1. A simple search form with the check-box option to match all terms exactly.

2. Search results shown grouped by category. This is great–no more scrolling through lots of results when you’re looking for specific kinds of records. This sort feature also reminds us to check categories we may be overlooking, like city directories and local histories. These first two-features are opt-in: learn how to do it here and see what it looks like below:

Ancestry simple search3. A summary box at the top of search results showing what you’ve already attached to your ancestor. The list is sorted alpha-numerically so you can see easily which records have been found and where there might be gaps (see what it looks like below). You can collapse this list if you want to give you more room to see the search results.

Ancestry consolidated list

4. A filter that removes search results similar to types you already found for that ancestor. For example, if you already have a death record for someone, the filter will remove other death records. “Smart filtering” is an optional feature, so you can still choose to see the full list. Read more about it here and see it here:

Ancestry smart filteringAncestry says they will provide plenty of feedback opportunities for these new features. Don’t be shy: tell them what you like (and what you don’t) and why!

 

 

Google Scholar for Genealogy? Here’s Why to Try It

Recently I heard from Sue Neale, whose story offers a compelling reason to use Google Scholar for genealogy research! Read it below–then I’ll tell you a little more about Google Scholar.

“I’ve been using computers for genealogy research (among other things) for about 30 years and am pretty good at finding most anything on the internet whether it pertains to genealogy or something else. It’s a continuous learning experience because computer, the internet and genealogy on the internet are always changing and updating.

[After hearing your seminars at RootsTech 2015], I tried out a couple of Google searches for my husband’s 3rd great-grandfather Silas Fletcher. Silas lived on Indian Key in the Florida Keys in the early 1820s.

My husband and I and our son visited Indian Key several years ago and the young lady who took us out in the boat had actually written her college thesis on Silas! Of course, we didn’t think to get her name or any other information. So I Googled “scholar paper Silas Fletcher’ and the first item on the search turned out to be her thesis!

I also found a second thesis on Indian Key and a research paper a third person had written–and they both contained information on Silas. In the footnotes I found references to deed books (book number and page number) that contained statements written by Silas, his wife Avis, their daughter Abigail and Mike’s 2nd great grandfather William H. Fletcher about their lives and movements in the Florida Keys.

With that information I went to Familysearch.org and found the deed books I needed for Monroe County. I was able to go find their statements very easily instead of having to ‘browse’ through the books on the off-chance I would find something (which I do if I don’t know the exact book where the record would be).

I can hardly wait to try out the rest of what I learned at your seminars to see what else I can find!”

Sue’s experience is a great example of using Google to dig for your family history. One little-known feature on Google is Google Scholar, which would help Sue and anyone else more easily find material like what she describes: doctoral dissertations, theses, academic papers and more. Your keyword searches in Google Scholar will target results from academic publishers, universities, professional societies and more.

Google Books and Scholar for genealogy success

Though scholarly literature gets a bad rap sometimes for being boring or highbrow, they do something genealogists love: THEY CITE SOURCES. Sue cleverly read the footnotes of the materials she found and they led her right to a key source she needed.

Here’s another resource she could find using the details found on Google Scholar in a Google Image search: a map of his community!

IK-annotated-sketch

 

My newly-updated, revised book The Genealogists Google Toolbox 2nd edition coverGenealogist’s Google Toolbox has an all-new chapter on using Google Scholar. Among other things, I show you advanced search strategies and how to use Google Alerts with Google Scholar for continuous updates on your favorite search results. Click here

 

Google Maps Street View Delivers a Taste of Time Travel

Google Maps Street View was given an edge today over Google Earth’s street view when Google launched a “time travel” upgrade. The ability to time travel is high on most family historians list, and Street View imagery for Google Maps desktop provides a taste of that prize.

According to Google’s blog post today they have “gathered historical imagery from past Street View collections dating back to 2007 to create this digital time capsule of the world.”Google Maps Street View of GettysburgHere’s an example of viewing Gettysburg with the new feature. In many cases, there’s nothing earth shattering to see. But in some locations which have undergone substantial change in that short time period (such as viewing the reconstruction after the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Onagawa, Japan) the results are riveting.

Don’t worry if you don’t see Google Maps Street View Historical Imagery feature yet. When you have millions of users it can take a while to roll out upgrades.

Members Have Been Time Traveling for a While Now
If you’re a Genealogy Gems Premium Member then chances are you made a bee-line for the Time Travel with Google Earth premium video as soon as you joined. In that video we explore some incredibly powerful ways to travel back through our ancestor’s lives and times. And while I still think that those techniques deliver more relevant results for genealogists, this new Street View time travel in Google Maps is exciting in its own way. It offers a glimpse into the future.

Consider this: Google has been amassing incredible amounts of data over its short life including satellite and street view imagery. 7 years in and they can now begin to offer this collection of older imagery in a meaningful way. Imagine what historical street view imagery will look like in 10, 25, or 50 years from now!

After Looking Back in Time, I Offer This Prediction for the Future
While this feature has just rolled out in Google Maps, and is not yet available in our beloved Google Earth, I predict this omission will not last long. You may have already noticed that as you zoom in closer to street level in Google Earth a small clock icon appears at the bottom of the screen indicating historical satellite imagery is available. Next to the icon a date now appears indicating the earliest available imagery. Click the Historical Imagery icon in Google Earth’s toolbar and a time slider indicating the years available will appear.

Historical imagery Google Earth

For most areas of the world this spans about as long as satellite imagery has been around. But in some key areas, such as London and parts of Europe, the slider goes back to the World War II era. Black and white aerial imagery of war torn areas are plainly visible. (If you have World War II veterans in your family tree, this is a feature you’ll want to explore.) It can only be a matter of time before this same Historical Imagery comes to Google Earth’s Street View.Burkett Family in San Francisco Google Earth for GenealogyMore Ways to Explore and Time Travel Now
If you are intrigued by the idea of using this technology to simulate your own genealogical time travel experience, watch my free video called Google Earth for Genealogy. You’ll travel along with me as I uncover the secrets of a photograph taken just over one hundred years ago, pinpoint the location today, and then travel back in time to further explore my ancestor’s neighborhood. From there, the sky is the limit with Google Earth and Google Maps!

 
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