“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.

The Google Search Operator That Got Away

One of my favorite Google Search Operators is the Tilde (`) which is Google lingo means Synonym. In the past you could add~genealogy to your searches and Google would look for ‘genealogy’, ‘family history’, ‘ancestry’ etc. Unfortunately, it is no more.

Google Search Operator Tilde synonym

Google explained the decision to do away with synonym search this way: “Why? Because too few people were using it to make it worth the time, money, and energy to maintain…Maintaining ALL of the synonyms takes real time and costs us real money. Supporting this operator also increases the complexity of the code base.”

So now, more than ever, it’s important to choose your keywords wisely and think like the person who may be posting information you are looking for. You may think train history, but experts on the subject may be using railroad or locomotive as they write on their website. The good news is you can include all the options in your search query.

Recommended Viewing:
Genealogy Gems Premium Video: Ultimate Google Search Strategies

Recommended Reading:
Things may change online, 
but Genealogy Gems will never change: 
We’re here to help!

Free Genealogy Records from Around the World: Newly Online!

Free genealogy records, newly available online, may be able to take you around your ancestor’s world! This week’s record destinations include Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Dominican Republic, France, Italy, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Russia, and South Africa.

Civil registration records–key genealogical resources–from several countries are among the free new family history records online in recent days and weeks. But you’ll also find probate records, church records, military personnel records, and even a digital archive meant to preserve ancient aboriginal languages. Which might mention your ancestors?

Argentina

Over 100,000 indexed names have been added to FamilySearch’s free collection, Argentina, Entre Ríos, Catholic Church Records, 1764-1983. According to a collection description, it includes “baptisms, confirmations, marriages and burials for cities in the province of Entre Ríos.”

Australia

An exciting new Australian website houses a digital archive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language materials. It includes texts, audio, video, and ebooks about Australia’s First Nations languages. The hope of the site is to be a digital repository for gathering, preserving, and sharing materials that in effect preserve these languages and revitalize their use. The site managers will continue to work with partners to bring more content to the site. Click here to read more about the site’s launch, and click here to access it directly.

Belgium

Two free Belgian civil registration collections at FamilySearch.org have been updated:

Both of these collections are comprised of civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths from the Belgium National Archives, as well as marriage proclamations, marriage supplements, and some original indexes. Additional images will be added as they become available.

Brazil

Several free Brazilian genealogy records collections have been updated at FamilySearch.org. Among them are the following:

Bolivia

Over 300,000 indexed names have been added to FamilySearch.org’s enormous free collection of Bolivia Catholic Church Records, 1566-1996. The collection hosts over 1.5 million digitized images of Catholic Church records created by parishes in Bolivia. “These records include: baptisms, confirmations, marriages, pre-marriage investigations, deaths, indexes and other records. Some of these records have been indexed and are searchable as part of this collection. Additional indexed records will be published as they become available.”

Canada

Library and Archives Canada continues to update its free Personnel Records of the First World War database. So far, the database includes “digitized files for many individuals of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and Newfoundland Forestry Corps (courtesy of the Rooms Provincial Archives).”

Newly digitized CEF files are added to the references every two weeks, states the collection’s landing page. To date, over 461,000 of an expected 640,000 files have been added. “Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order,” explains a blog post. “Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized.”

Chile

FamilySearch.org has updated its free collection, Chile Civil Registration, 1885-1903. These include “births, marriages, and deaths for various localities in Chile from 1885 to 1903. For a complete list of all the provincias and comunas included in this collection, see the Provinces of Chile – Civil Registration coverage table. Only records from a few localities have been indexed. More records and images will be added as they become available.” Need help reading these? FamilySearch suggests using this Spanish Genealogical Word List, which also links to other translation tools.

Dominican Republic

Over 175,00 indexed names have been added to FamilySearch’s free collection, Dominican Republic Civil Registration, 1801-2010. Spanning over 200 years, the collection includes images of births, marriages, and deaths as well as some divorces and indexes. “Some of these records have been indexed and are searchable as part of this collection,” states the collection description. “Additional images and indexed records will be published as they become available. These records were obtained from public access sources in the Dominican Republic.”

France

FamilySearch has updated its collection of indexed Catholic parish record images for Coutances et d’Avranche Diocese, 1533-1894. Baptisms, marriages, and burials are all included. “Parishes within this diocese are within the boundaries of the department of Manche,” states a collection description. “French commission for Informatics and Liberties (CNIL) does not allow publication of sensitive data below 150 years.”

Italy

FamilySearch continues to publish more Italian civil registration records! These are some of the latest:

Netherlands

Just shy of a million records have been added recently to FamilySearch’s free collection, Netherlands, Archival Indexes, Miscellaneous Records. “Archives around the Netherlands have contributed indexes which cover many record sources, such as civil registration, church records, emigration lists, military registers, and land and tax records,” says the collection description. “These records cover events like birth, marriage, death, burial, emigration and immigration, military enrollment and more. These indexes were originally collected, combined and published by OpenArchives.”

Nicaragua

There are now over two century’s worth of records in the free FamilySearch collection, Nicaragua Civil Registration, 1809-2013. It includes “births, marriages, deaths, and other records created by civil registration offices in various departments of Nicaragua.” Civil registration in Nicaragua didn’t begin until 1879, and it appears that most records in this collection date from that year or later.

Paraguay

Nearly 125,000 browse-only images have been added to FamilySearch.org’s free collection, Paraguay Miscellaneous Records, 1509-1977. According to the site, “These records include two complete collections: Sección Nueva Encuadernación (Rebinding Section) and Sección Propiedades y Testamentos (Properties and Wills Section). Copies of the original records are housed at the Archivo Nacional in Asunción, Paraguay. The “Propiedades y Testamentos” section can give a brief look at the personal wealth of clerics, economic bases of resident foreigners in Paraguay, or the fortunes of a given family over a period of time.”

Russia

FamilySearch.org has updated its free collection, Russia, Samara Church Books, 1779-1923.  It includes “images and partial index to records of births and baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials performed by priests of the Russian Orthodox Church in the province of Samara. These records were acquired from the state archive in that province.” Another brief statement in the collection description illustrates the incremental and ongoing nature of record additions to FamilySearch: “Currently this collection is 4% complete. Additional records will be added as they are completed.”

South Africa

Over 40,000 indexed records have been added to the free FamilySearch.org collection, South Africa, Transvaal, Probate Records from the Master of the Supreme Court, 1869-1958. The records are described simply as “probate records from the Master of the Supreme Court, Transvaal, South Africa. Original records are located in the Transvaal Archives Depot, Pretoria, Republic of South Africa.

Spotlight on probate records

court record research wills probate records genealogyProbate records detailed the final settling of our ancestors’ financial assets. They often contain rich genealogical information and interesting insights into a person’s life. They are among the many records you might find at courthouses and government archives. More U.S. probate records are coming online (click here to learn more), but even if you have to visit a courthouse yourself or hire someone to do it for you, it’s often worth it. Click here to read why.

Thanks for sharing this post with those who will want to know about these free genealogy records online!

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