Who doesn’t love a good genealogical surprise? Sometimes we discover something we overlooked the first time around. Other times we find gems in places we never expected. Google Books is one of those places full of unexpected surprises.
with Lisa Louise Cooke
What is Google Books
Google Books is a free online catalog of over 25 million books, 10 million of which are digitized and searchable. The collection is international in scope.
You can search at the stand-alone website. You can also start your search at Google.com and then select Books results on the search results page.
While you would expect to find books at Google Books, you may be surprised to discover there it also includes many other types of published materials. Here are 10 surprising things you can find at Google Books. Watch the video and follow along in the article below.
10 Surprising Things at Google Books
The final issue of Ancestry magazine was published in 2010. Though times and technology change, core genealogical methodology stays much the same. Browse or search past issues spanning 1994 through 2010 at Google Books for free. You’ll also find countless other magazine titles including Life magazine (1953-1972).
An ideal way to fill in between census enumerations is with city directories. Typically published yearly but sometimes irregularly, they are an invaluable source for information about your ancestors. You might find listed their place of employment and spouse’s name in addition to address and phone number.
Search Tip: Target city directories specifically by searching for the name of the city in quotation marks. Google interprets quotation marks to mean that you want that word exactly as written to appear in each returned result. Next add the phrase city directory, again in quotes. To ensure you don’t miss directories that include additional words between city and directory, place an asterisk between the words.
Here’s how your search will look: “Nashville” “city * directory”
This search operator tells Google that the phrase may also include a word or two between city and directory. An example might be The Nashville City and Business Directory.
When we hear the word almanac we often automatically think of the yearly Old Farmer’s Almanac. However, almanacs of the 19th century and earlier sometimes also included information on local residents and businesses. It’s worth taking a look to see if your ancestor’s community published almanacs. Businesses and other organizations also published almanacs.
4. Governmental Publications
It’s not uncommon for every person at some point in their life to interact with the government. Those interactions create paperwork, and that paperwork may have been published. In Google books, search for probate documents, hearings and other types of government generated works in combination with the names of your ancestors, their businesses, and other organizations with which they were associated.
5. County Histories
The digitized items on Google Books are often there because they either fall within the public domain (published prior to 1924). Consequently, there is a very good chance that the county history published in your ancestor’s area is digitized and available on Google Books. These books are a wealth of historical information about families and communities.
6. Compiled Family Histories
There’s a good chance that sometime in the past someone has researched a family line that connects to your family tree. These genealogies may be published in a compiled family history. Since the phrase compiled family history will probably not be in the title of the book, try this search approach:
1. Search for the word genealogy (no quotation marks) and a surname (with quotation marks)
2. Filter to Free Google eBooks
3. Filter by time frame (for example 19th century)
The Google News Archive was a newspaper digitization project that was discontinued several years ago. The archive remains but is very difficult to search. The good news is that those digitized newspapers are now included in Google Books with its powerful search engine. Start by running a search and then on the results page filter Document Type to Newspapers. Use the Share a Clip clipping tool (found in the three stacked dots button on the digitized book page) to clip articles.
Newspapers may appear in the old Classic View of Google Books (as they do at the time of this writing.) If so, use the search box in the column on the left side of the page to search within the newspaper.
Search Tip: Save time by visiting the Google News Archive to see which newspapers are included and the years that they cover.
8. Genealogy Journals
The oldest genealogy journal has been published quarterly by the New England Historical and Genealogical Society since 1847. Since then many other societies such as the Genealogical Society of Utah have regularly published journals. These journals often list families and sources and are an invaluable resource to genealogists today. Family Associations also often publish journals.
Try a simple search of genealogy journal to start browsing. Then try adding a surname, state, or country or combination of those. Filter down to Free Google eBooks to view only free digitized publications.
The Historical Journal of the More Family. United States: John More Association, 1892.
Old maps can be found in many of the surprising items we’ve found so far. County Histories in particular are a wonderful resource of old maps. Many times, they will include plat maps that even include the owners name written on the property. Many maps may be one-of-a-kind.
A quick and easy way to spot maps within a book is to use ThumbnailView. You’ll find the ThumbnailView button (which looks like a checkerboard or collection of six squares) at the top of the screen when viewing a digitized book. Once clicked, your view will change from a single page to many pages at once. This makes it very easy to scroll and spot maps. You can also try looking through the Contents menu for Maps.
Use the Share a Clip feature (mentioned in #7) to clip the map. In the pop-up box, click the Copy button next to the image link. Paste the link in a new browser tab and hit Enter on your keyboard. On a PC, right-click the image and save it to your computer by selecting Save Image As.
Like old maps, there are many photographs and images in old digitized books at Google Books. These could include photos, engravings and drawings of your ancestors, their homes or other items relating to your family history. Follow the directions in #9 to find and save photos and images.
Tips for using Google Books
When reviewing a digitized book, look for the Contents menu at the top of the screen. Here you’ll find addition options to jump to different parts of the book such as topics or chapters.
In the new Google Books user interface, you will find the digitized book is overlayed over the catalog entry for the book. The search box at the top of the screen is for searching only within that book. To close the book and view the catalog entry, click the X in the upper right corner of the screen.
To remove the yellow highlighted items, you searched for from a book and start a new search, click the Clear Search button.
Translate foreign language text by using the clipping tool. While viewing a digitized page, click the three stacked dots and select Share a Clip. Using your mouse, draw a box around the text you want to translate. In the Share this Clip pop-up window click the Translate button.
How to filter your search results down to only free digitized book: On the search results page you should see that the Tools button is greyed out (if it is not, click it) and in the drop down menu click Any Books and select Free Google eBooks.
How to cite books in Google Books: Close the digitized book to reveal the book’s catalog entry page. In the About this edition click the Create Citation button. Copy the desired source citation.
Book:The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke. Learn everything you need to know about effective searching as well as using Google Books and the Google News Archive.
Premium Members: Watch my Premium video class Google books the Tool I Use Every Day for many more specific and effective strategies for using Google Books for genealogy.
One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.
From Carolyn: Can you put in a year range for the city directory search From Lisa: Yes, you can use the numrange search operator when searching Google Books. Example: “Nashville” “city * directory” 1850..1900
From Regina: What if you have a really common surname?
From Lisa: Common names pose a challenge but you can find them too! It takes a bit more strategy, and I cover that extensively in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.
From Mary: Could you find diaries, journals, and manuscripts? What would it be under? From Lisa: If the items were formally published then there is definitely a possibility of finding them in Google Books. Run a search on diary and filter down to Free Google eBooks and you will see many examples. From there, you can try adding names, places, etc.
From Kathryn: When you clip a map or image, how can you add the citation of the book? From Lisa: Click the X to close the digitized book. This will reveal the book’s catalog entry page. In the About this edition click the Create Citation button. Copy the desired source citation. You can then paste it into the document where you are using the clipping, or paste it into the meta data (Properties) of the image file.
From Georgiann: Sometimes I get so overwhelmed with the ALL of this good information. Lisa, are you cloned so I can have you sit next to me to calm me down as I start? From Lisa: Well, as you heard in this episode it turns out I don’t have a twin, LOL! However, Premium Membership is the next best thing. Then you can have me “on demand” all year long.
Have you used WPA records for genealogy? Their Historical Record Surveys and local and oral histories may help you in your family history research. Existing records and locations vary widely. Here are tips to help you in your search.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, employees of the Works Progress Administration (WPA, also known as the Works Projects Administration) created new resources for U.S. genealogical research. It’s possible you’ve even consulted some of these without being aware of their WPA origins. After all, the projects and their formats varied. They didn’t always prominently credit the WPA and some were printed long afterward. We’re going to shine the spotlight on WPA-era local histories, oral histories and statewide Historical Record Surveys.
WPA Records for Genealogy: Local Histories
In Annie Barrows’ novel The Truth According to Us, Layla Beck heads to the small fictional town of Macedonia, West Virginia to write a local history as a WPA assignment. Drama ensues, both in Layla’s personal life and as she tries to learn local stories, which everyone reports a little differently. (We featured this book in the Genealogy Gems Book Club.)
Actually, local histories were written as WPA projects. Their scope, topics, and formats varied, depending on the unique background and resources of each region and how active WPA workers were in each state and county. For example, WPA historical materials in Morrison County, Minnesota include “histories on townships, cities, churches, schools, businesses, the military, and miscellaneous county history topics,” which have since been collected and reprinted by the county historical society. Many historical projects included photographs, such as this one for the city of New Orleans.
WPA Records for Genealogy: Oral Histories
WPA workers also captured oral histories of individuals, too. Many were collected in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940, now online at the Library of Congress. According to the collection description, “The documents chronicle vivid life stories of Americans who lived at the turn of the century and include tales of meeting Billy the Kid, surviving the 1871 Chicago fire, pioneer journeys out West, factory work, and the immigrant experience. The documents often describe the informant’s physical appearance, family, education, income, occupation, political views, religion and mores.”
Other important WPA oral histories are narratives of former slaves and their families. You can browse an enormous collection of these online at the Library of Congress. These aren’t the ideal eyewitness accounts we wish for, as they were gathered so long after the end of slavery, from many who were young children at the time. Also, many researchers believe interviewees may not have spoken candidly, especially to white interviewers who may have known them personally.
It’s a long shot to find an ancestor mentioned by name in WPA oral histories. In some instances, pseudonyms were even used for names and places. But, you can still learn a lot from others’ descriptions of daily life and unusual events your ancestors may have experienced.
From one of the slave narratives mentioned in this article.
Historical Record Surveys
The Historical Record Surveys created by the WPA are among the most genealogically-valuable of their projects. “Under the auspices of the WPA, workers went to archives, historical societies, public and university libraries, and compiled inventories of manuscript collections,” writes Bryan Mulcahy in an online report. “They went to courthouses, town halls, offices in large cities, and vital statistics offices and inventoried records. Besides compiling indexes, they also transcribed some of the records they found.”
Today, many of their efforts still exist. They include indexes to cemeteries, newspapers, and naturalization records, as well as inventories of courthouse records, church records, and other manuscript collections in various archives or libraries. Of course, some records may have been moved or destroyed since inventories were created, but knowing what records existed around 1940 and what they were called may help you locate surviving collections. Some indexes, such as those of cemetery tombstone inscriptions, may actually be more valuable since they captured information from tombstones that may no longer exist or be legible.
A blank WPA Historical Records Survey church records inventory form. Image courtesy of the State Archives of Florida. Click this image to find it online at Florida Memory.
One great example is the Historical Records Survey for the state of Oregon, described as “the most comprehensive documentary project of Oregon history and related records of its time.” It includes historical essays, document transcriptions, interviews, research notes, photographs, pamphlets and more. According to its collection description, “The territorial and pioneer periods of the mid-to-late nineteenth century receive the greatest attention, with an emphasis on the growth of state government and infrastructure, business and agriculture, transportation, education, biography, and relations between social groups. Native Americans figure prominently in this collection.”
Finding WPA Records for Genealogy Online
Some WPA projects were carried out on a federal level and others by state agencies. They were never centrally published or collected. Today, surviving original files and published volumes are scattered across the country. Some can be found in the National Archives, many in state libraries or societies, and many more available at local repositories.
A Google search such as historical records surveys and the name of the state and/or county is a great way to start your search for WPA records for genealogy research. Some results will lead right to the kinds of resources you want, such as this guide to WPA records in archives in the Pacific Northwest. Others, such as this one for the Iowa Historical Records Survey published in The American Archivist, are mostly a history of the effort. However, they do contain several useful bibliographic citations to records that were created. Add the name of the county to your search and you may find more targeted results, such as this library catalog entry for the inventory of the Jasper County archives. Click here to learn more about Google searches for genealogy records you want to find.
Remember, though, that many WPA publications and collections aren’t identified as such. Don’t fixate on needing to find WPA listed in the title. Just concentrate your efforts on finding the local and oral histories, photos, historical record indexes and inventories, and other resources that may be out there. When you find one created during the Great Depression, you’ll know it may have been done by the WPA.
The latest tech news from Google Earth, FamilySearch and MyHeritage
Alice’s Story – genealogy research with blogger Julianne Mangin
Cemeteries – both for ancestors and their pets
Please take our quick PODCAST SURVEY which will take less than 1 minute. Thank you!
Google Earth News
Jennifer in California sent me a fascinating item recently , and she says “Thought you might get a kick out today’s blurb from Google, where they pat themselves on the back for what can be done with Google Earth. No argument from me; it’s amazing!”
So, what can be done with Google Earth besides all the family history projects that I teach here on the podcast and in the Premium videos? Well, Peter Welch and Weekend Wanderers in the UK are using Google Earth to find treasure!
FamilySearch.org, the free and massive genealogy website from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has added a new way for you to add more memories to your tree.
In addition to photos you can now add audio both at the websiteand the FamilySearch FamilyTree and Memories apps which you can download from your mobile device’s app store.
So now as you’re selecting and uploading family photos to familysearch, you can also gather and record the stories that go with those photos. It’s sort of like being able to write on the back on the photograph, but in an even more personal way.
Your voice, and the voices of your relatives can now be part of your family’s history.
From the FamilySearch website: “Photos and audio attached to deceased ancestors can be viewed by other users on the FamilySearch Family Tree. To protect privacy, photos and audio attached to living people can be seen only by the person who added the memory unless that person shares the memory or album with another user.”
MyHeritage App update
Among the newly introduced features are Family Timelines, the ability to view family trees that you’re matched with, the ability to choose which information you extract from Smart Matches™, an improved research page, and more. Read all about it here
From Craig: “After finding my Paternal grandfather and great-grandfather, I looked for my Paternal GG Grandfather in the same area. No luck. I went to the R.B. Hayes library in Tiffin, Ohio and started looking at every page in the burial listing for the township I thought he would be in. And there he was – last name misspelled! (The “A” was changed to a “K”.) I was able to drive over to the cemetery and located his stone – still readable after his burial in 1885. I plan to go back to the area this summer to look for his wife, who was buried elsewhere (they were separated.) I wish I could get someone to update the lists with the correct spelling, to match the gravestone and census papers, but that seems impossible to do.”
“My brother Ray says we have visited more dead relatives than live ones. Trying now to visit the relatives above ground!”
Spent many hours walking, crawling, pushing through brush brambles and briers just to find and take pictures of tombstones. I regret only one such adventure. If I may. My sweetheart and I went to a small cemetery in New Jersey to gather family names and pictures for Billion Graves and our personal records. While I was taking pictures, my wife was clipping brush and bushes from the stone that identified her families plot.
We had a great day. I filled two clips of pictures and my sweetheart did a magnificent job on that stone. It was only a few hours later, when she started itching that I really “looked” at the pictures and realized that the brush that she cleared from that stone was poison ivy. Wouldn’t have been so bad, but when she found that I’m not affected by poison oak, ivy or sumac. She was not happy.
I have recently started doing ancestry research and have been astounded at what I have found. No creepy tree stories. However, it is nice to know that some ancestors took special care to by buy family plots even though they knew eventually the girls might marry and want to be buried with their husband. I found it interesting that both my grandfather and my grandmother are both buried with their individual parents.
Shirley’s story jogged my memory. My mother died in 1934 when I was 4 years old. She is buried in her father’s plot rather than my paternal grandfather’s plot. I have wondered for years why the burial was arranged that way and imagine all sorts of situations. Were the families feuding? Was one family more financially able to foot the bill. Did my paternal grandfather not like my father? Hmmmm………
I checked out this book from the local library about a month ago. Decided I needed my own copy. All genealogist should read it. It is very informative & entertaining.
About 5 years ago I found the farm on which my gr great grandparents were buried. The tall granite marker with the parents’ names had been knocked over, the foot stones stacked and several large rocks were around the monument and it was in the middle of a field that was being planted and harvested. We made contact with the owner and received permission to have it raised.
In the meantime, I found an obituary for a son who was buried on the family farm. I also found an article about a woman who did dowsing, contacted her and she agreed to come perform the dowsing. I was videoing it when my phone went totally dead! I had never had that happen and it was charged. Thirty minutes later it came back on mysteriously!
She found 2 adult women, 2 adult men and three toddlers. After further search I found another obituary for a grown daughter buried there and 3 toddler grandchildren who died in 1882. She said that the large rocks would have marked the graves. Sadly, they had totally desecrated the family cemetery. But I was excited to learn all I did and was startled by the phone totally dying.
We first talked to Julianne last year in Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 219. In that episode we explored the tragic story of Julianne’s ancestors, the Metthe family. It was a riveting case study of the twists and turns that genealogy can take us on.GEM: Checking in with Julianne Mangin
Julianne had originally been a bit of a reluctant genealogist. But after a 30 year career in library science, including 14 years as a librarian and website developer for the Library of Congress in Washington DC, she could couldn’t help but try to find the truther in the piecemeal stories that she was told by her mother.
Julianne has continued to research and write at her Julianne Mangin blog, and I thought it would fun to check back in with her and see what she’s been up to.
Her latest blog series is called Alice’s Story. It follows the path of discovery she followed to uncover the story of a previously unknown aunt.
The research began where most good genealogical research begins: at the end of Alice’s life and her death certificate.
Institutional Records – But with few records and no first-hand interviews available, Julianne turned to researching the institutions themselves to dig deeper into Alice’s experience. Resource: Genealogy Gems Premium Video: Institutional Records (membership required)
State Census Records can help fill in the gaps between the federal census enumerations. Search for “state census” in the card catalog:
“Copies of many state censuses are on microfilm at the Family History Library. The Family History Library’s most complete collections of state censuses are for Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. However, censuses exist for the following states also:
Old Postcards are a great resource for images. Resources: Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 16 and episode 76 feature strategies for finding family history on ebay. (Genealogy Gems Premium Membershiprequired)
Become a Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning Member Gain access to the complete Premium podcast archive of over 150 episodes and more than 50 video webinars, including Lisa Louise Cooke’s newest video The Big Picture in Little Details. Learn more here