Original air date: 10/1/20 Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history.
Google Lens with Lisa Louise Cooke
What is Google Lens?
Google Lens is a free technology that Google says helps you ”search what you see.” It uses the latest in Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and artificial intelligence to accomplish tasks.
In this video and article we’ll discuss where you can get Google Lens and how to use it for a wide variety of tasks.
Hang on tight to your phone and let’s jump in!
Google Lens is in Google Photos
Google Lens is doing much of the work in Google Photos. It can detect the faces in your photos, and allow you to search by face. It can also detect objects and text, making it a super fast way to search the photos and images you store in Google Photos.
If you’re not interested in storing all of your photos on Google Photos, that’s OK. As a genealogist, you could still use it for more strategic purposes. You could use it just for family history photos and related genealogical images like documents and photos of tombstones. All of the content you add can then be quickly and easily searched for and found. It can even help you identify a known ancestor in other photos where you may not have recognized it was the same person.
We will talk about specific ways to use Google Lens in Google Photos. But first, let’s talk about all of the ways you can get your hands on Google Lens.
Where can I find Google Lens on my phone or tablet?
Google Lens is available on most mobile devices but not all. Some Samsung devices don’t currently support it. Here’s where you can find Google Lens.
Google Lens is built into Google Photos – Download the Google Photos app to your phone. Pull up one of your photos and look for the Lens icon at the bottom of the screen. If it is there, your phone supports Google Lens.
Google Lens in the Google Search app – You will see the Lens icon in the search bar if your phone supports Google Lens.
The Google Lens app – On Android devices look for the Google Lens app in the Google Play app store.
Where can I find Google Lens on my computer?
Google Lens is primarily a mobile tool although Google Lens is built into the functionality of Google Photos. (It works behind the scenes – you won’t find a Google Lens icon.)
However, you can use your phone to user Google Lens to capture text and then send it to the Chrome browser on your desktop computer.
Using Lens in the Google Photos App
To use Google Lens on your photos in the Google Photos app, you’ll first need to give the app permission to receive the photos you take with your phone. You can then open the Google Photos app and select a photo. In this episode I used the example of a potted plant (Image A below).
(Image A) Google Lens in the Google Photos app
Tap the Google Lens icon at the bottom of the screen and you will receive search results that include the name of the plant, photo examples of the same plant, possible shopping options, and web pages providing more information about that plant.
Here’s another way you can use the Google Lens feature in the Google Photos app:
Take a photo of a business card. (I used Google’s PhotoScan app to do this. The app does a great job of removing glare and other distortions that can occur when you photograph something with your phone. You can download the free Google PhotoScan app from your device’s app store.)
Access the photo in the Google Photos app.
Tap the Google Lens icon.
Lens turns the information on the card into actionable buttons:
Add to contacts
search on the web
go to the website
Google Lens is in the Google Search app
On many mobile devices such as the iPhone (but not all devices) the Google Lens icon will appear in the search bar. If you’re not sure if you already have the Google Search app on your phone, go to the app store app on your phone and search for “Google Search.” You will see the app listed with a button that either says “Open” (because it is already on your phone) or “Install” (because it is not yet on your phone.)
You can also check to see if they app is on your phone by searching for “Google Search” in the search bar of your phone.
Here’s what the Google Search app looks like on a phone (Image B below):
(Image B) Look for the Google Search app on your phone.
The Google Lens App
If you have an Android phone, search the Google Play store for the Google Lens app. Here’s what the app looks like (Image C below):
(Image C) Android users with phone’s supporting Google Lens will find the app in the Google Play app store.
What Google Lens Can Do
Once you start using Google Lens the possibilities for its use can seem endless. Here’s a list of the kinds of things Google Lens can do:
Copy Text from printed materials or objects
Search for Text on printed material or objects
Solve math problems
Read text to you
How to Use Google Lens to Read a Book
Before you buy that next history book or go through the trouble of requesting it through inter-library loan, why not let Google Lens determine if it is already available for free online? This next tip works really well for old books that are likely to be in the public domain or printed before 1924.
Open the book to the title page
Open the Google Search app on your phone
Tap the Google Lens icon
Hold your phone over the title page
Tap the search button
If the book is available on Google Books, the title will appear along with a blue “Read” button
Tap the “Read” button to access, read and search the book on Google Books for free!
(Image D) Point your phone’s camera or Google Lens at the QR code
Open the camera on your phone and point it at the QR code above (Image D) to be taken to the book in the Genealogy Gems store. Use coupon code LENS to get 20% off!
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 Rosalyn: Lisa are the old photos hanging on your wall the originals or copies? They are very nice. Lisa’s Answer: I always put copies in frames when I hang them on the wall because light can fade originals. They are all my family.
From Jn Rollins: Does it do the same identification for birds? Lisa’s Answer: I haven’t snapped a photo of a bird, but I’m sure it could. I used it on a photo of a bird, and it identified it perfectly.
From Susan: I have to download an app to get the lens icon? Lisa’s Answer: If you have an Android phone, you may be able to download the free Google Lens app from your app store. Otherwise, you will find the icon in the Google Search app or the Google Photos app on supported devices.
From Patriva: Is Google Go the same as Google Search? Lisa’s Answer: Google Go is a “lighter faster” search app. I think it may be geared more toward Samsung devices. I have a Samsung Tab and it doesn’t support Google Lens.
From Carrie: Does this work with the Google Chrome app? Lisa’s Answer: The Chrome app doesn’t have the Google Lens icon.
From Jn Rollins: I installed Lens a while ago on my Android phone, but when I open Google search the lens icon doesn’t appear next to the microphone icon. How can I change that? Lisa’s Answer: Some Android devices (like Samsung phones) don’t support Google Lens so you won’t see the icon. Check the app store to see if they offer the Google Lens app for your phone. However, I’m guessing it probably won’t be offered since it sounds like your phone doesn’t support Google Lens.
From Christine: I love this technology for speeding up research! But I have some reservations—what privacy are we giving away? How will Google use our search history? Lisa’s Answer: I would not use Google Lens for anything I consider “sensitive.” Go to the privacy settings in your Google MyActivity to learn more.
From Lynnette: Can you put the text into Evernote easily? Lisa’s Answer: Absolutely! Tap to copy the detected text, open an Evernote note, press your finger in the note and tap Paste to paste the text.
From Colleen: I see you are google searching. Does doing this with photos allow others to access my google photos when searching for an item? For example, the example you used with the purse? Lisa’s Answer: To the best of my knowledge your photos are not searchable by others online. However, it is possible that Google uses the image internally to “train” the machine learning. Go to the privacy settings in your Google MyActivity to learn more.
From Christine: Lisa, can this be used to compare photos to determine if they are the same person? Thanks for sharing all your wisdom! Lisa’s Answer: Yes! Watch my Premium membership video called Solving Unidentified Photo Album Cases.
From Caryl: Don’t know what a symbol is on a headstone? Now this would be oh so helpful!! Lisa’s Answer: Yes, indeed!
From Susan: I quickly took a photo of the book cover, so now I can get your book! Is it better to buy directly from you or go to Amazon? Lisa’s Answer: The book is available exclusively at my website: https://www.shopgenealogygems.com
From Debbie: Will FamilySearch’s app be independent, or will it work / integrate with Google? Lisa’s Answer: FamilySearch would not be integrated. However, as handwriting technology is developed I’m sure you’ll find it in use in both places.
Please Leave a Comment or Question
I really want to hear from you. Did you enjoy this episode? Do you have a question? Please leave a comment on the video page at YouTube or call and leave a voice mail at (925) 272-4021 and I just may answer it on the show!
If you enjoyed this show and learned something new, will you please share it with your friends? Thank you for your support!
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 23 Video and Show Notes
Live show air date: September 3, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history.
Today’s Topic: Google Photos for Beginners
Have you thought about using Google Photos but just weren’t sure how it worked or where to start? This video webinar will answer your questions and give you the confidence to use it effectively. In this 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?
Watch the video and follow along here with the show notes. Genealogy Gems Premium Members can download a PDF handout of these notes in the Resourcessection below.
What is Google Photos?
Google Photos is a free Cloud-based photo and video sharing and storage service. You can use the website on your computer and download the Google Photos app to all of your mobile devices.
Mobile: Search in your app store for the Google Photos app and download.
(May appear and behave differently on iPhone, Android, or Google Pixel phone, etc.)
Log in to each device with your Google account. If you don’t have a Google account, you can set it up for free. You will use this same account with all Google tools and products.
Sign up for a free Google account.
Sign into each device with this same account.
Google Photos can synchronize your photos between devices.
Google Photos Privacy
It’s understandable to be concerned about the privacy of your photos and videos. Here’s what you need to know about Google Photos privacy:
Your photos are only available to you
Your account is secured by your personal password
Your photos are not uploaded to the Internet or searchable with Google.com
Read the Terms of Service
Google Photos Features
There are a wide range of great features, some of which may not be obvious at first. Google Photos features include:
Massive storage (allowing you the option to free up space on your devices)
Powerful search and retrieval
Text recognition (OCR)
Sharing and creation tools
Google Photos Storage
You have two options when it comes to your Google Photos storage plan:
Free version called High Quality
Low cost subscription to upgrade photo storage capacity called Original Quality.
Let’s take a closer look at these two storage plan options.
Option #1: High Quality
Image compression (takes up less storage space)
Photos (Larger than 16 Megapixels (MP) resized to 16MP. Good quality prints up to 24” x 16” meet most needs)
Videos (If higher than 1080p then resized to HD 1080p)
Option #2: Original Quality
No compression of photos or videos.
Uses the 15 GB of free storage in your Google account. This storage cap includes everything you have saved in Gmail, Google Drive, and all Google apps.
When you hit storage limit: Option to purchase additional storage called Google One.
Visit Google One to get all the latest information about plans and features.
High Quality versus Original Quality can be a bit confusing to remember. It may help to think of it this way:
High Quality (FREE)
compressed but still high quality and printable.
Original Quality ($ Storage)
Stored at original size. Larger sizes take up more storage space.
Google Photos Back Up and Storage Benefits
Considering the volume of photos and videos we take these days with our phones, and the volume of old family photos we have digitized, storage is a pressing issue. Google Photos can help because:
It can relieve the storage burden on your phone by giving you a place to store your photos. You can then elect to remove them from any of your devices if you wish.
The ability to upload, search, organize, edit and share your photos from any device.
If you lose or break your phone, your photos are stored on the cloud and can be accessed and downloaded again on any device that is signed into your Google account.
I strongly believe it is important to have multiple backups. So while I see Google Photos as one of my backups, all of my important photos and videos are on my computer which is backed up to the cloud. I use the Cloud backup service Backblaze and have for many years. If you decide to try them (and they usually offer a 15 day free trial here) , I do appreciate it if you use my link. We are compensated at no additional cost to you, and that helps make this free show and show notes possible.
How to Upload Photos to Google Photos
There are two ways to add photos from your computer:
Click Upload at top of the page.
Drag and drop photos onto the Google Photos screen.
Drag and drop photos into Google Photos
When using the Google Photos App on a mobile device:
Tap your face in the upper right corner of the screen (your account)
Tap Photo Settings
Turn on Back Up & Sync.
I recommend turning off Use cellular data to back up photos / videos.
Also in the Settings you will find Manage device storage. You can opt to have the original photos and videos removed from your device once they are uploaded to Google Photos. This will free up space and manage the amount of storage the app uses on your device.
How to Delete and Archive Your Photos in Google Photos:
Click to select the photo or video (you can select one or multiple) on your computer or tap the photo in the app.
Click / tap the trash can icon.
Searching Your Photos and Videos in Google Photos
You can search your photos and videos for:
People & Pets
For example, type the word Selfie into the search field and Google Photos will retrieve all of the photos that were taken as selfies.
You can also search your photos and videos for:
Recently added items
Videos (Type the word Videos into the search field)
Dates (Find photos based on when they were taken. For example, you can search October 2019 through December 2019.)
Facial Recognition in Google Photos
After initial set up your backup, Google Photos starts to identify and group faces that are the same.
Check your Settings to ensure the feature is activated: Settings > Group similar faces > slide the Face Grouping button to the “on” position. It might take a few hours or a few days from your initial setup for this feature to activate. It depends on number of photos and your WiFi connection.
Group similar faces in Google Photos
Searching for photos and videos that include certain people (faces) is very easy to do.
Tap in the search box
Tap a face to see all photos for that face.
You can Show and Hide Faces and include or exclude Pet Faces in the Settings.
Keep in mind that facial recognition, and object and text search aren’t (and realistically can’t be) perfect. However, it improves every day thanks to machine learning. The Google Photos of today is more accurate than when the service was first launched.
You can help train Google Photos to more accurately identify faces in photos by adding names to the faces that you know. You can also answer the questions that Google Photos poses regarding whether two faces are the same or different person.
Object Search in Google Photos
You can search for objects that appear in your photos and videos. Simply type in the word that represents the object. The example I used in this video was: Wedding Dress
Notice that this search retrieved content that included weddings and dresses. In order to narrow in on strictly content where someone is wearing a wedding dress, I put quotation marks around the phrase: “Wedding Dress”
I also searched for Typewriter. This retrieved content that featured a typewriter predominately and even when a typewriter simply appeared in the background. It also found videos where a typewriter appeared briefly.
Text Search in Google Photos
Searching for words will retrieve any photo or video in Google Photos that mention that word. There are countless uses for this as a genealogist. In the example I showed in the video, photos of tombstones can be retrieved simply by searching for the surname that appears on the tombstone. This text recognition applies to all types of text including newspaper articles, signs and more. Again, we must keep in mind that Google Photos isn’t perfect and will have difficulty reading text that is unclear.
Create New Content in Google Photos
Google Photos creates fun projects and content using the photos and videos in your account including:
The content Google Photos creates can only be seen by you. It is not public. You decide whether to keep it, share it or delete it.
I show an example in this session of creating a video by selecting a theme, and a face. Google Photos did the rest by retrieving and assembling the photos chronologically and adding appropriate music! You can download these projects to your computer, and share links too.
Premium Members: Watch the Premium Video Solving Unidentified Photo Album Cases available with your Genealogy Gems Premium Membership. From Debra H: “Your topic is so on track with me. I have been scanning old photos. What a great delight to see your Solving Unidentified Photo album Cases. It was perfect. Thanks!!”
From Gwynn: Does Google Photos have a way to share with a link?
Answer: Yes. In the video you can see how to do on a computer. On an iPhone: tap the photo, tap the Share icon, tap Share to, then tap Create link
Question: If you share the link on social media they can’t change it (the photo) right?
From Kathy: With photos in the Cloud with Google Photos, can you tell the phone’s iCloud to disregard backing up your photos since you already have them in Google Photos?
Answer: Look at Settings > General > iPhone Storage> Disable iCloud Photos
Kelli: If I delete a photo on my phone does it delete from Google photo?
Answer: It depends exactly what you mean. If you delete the photo from your phone’s camera roll, no, it does not remove it from Google Photos. If you remove it from the Google Photos app on your phone, then yes it will remove it from Google Photos on your computer as well.
From Retta: Can you put a PDF on google photos?
From John: What add-on do you use to highlight your cursor? (in the video)
Answer: I use this software.
From Kathy: Is this good for sharing albums with family?
From Natalie: Is there a limit of how many photos you can put in an album?
Answer: Currently 20,000 photos and videos.
From C: Synchronize means it downloads to all devises?
Answer: Yes, the photos and videos will be available through all of the devices in which you are signed into the same Google Photos account.
From GeneBuds: How do I access archive?
Answer: On a computer: You’ll find Archive on the left side of the screen under Library. On a phone: Tap Library in the menu at the bottom of the screen and then tap Archive.
Sarah: Somehow I have several copies of the same photo. Will Google photos help me sort those out so I can delete duplicates?
Answer: My understand is that Google Photos can detect identical duplicate images. If you already uploaded a photo to Google Photos, it will not re-upload the same photo. It will skip uploading that photo. It may look like Google Photos is uploading the photo again, but it isn’t. It’s just running it through identical duplicate detection.
From John: Where in Settings is “Group Similar Photos”? Does it vary by provider (like AT&T, Verizon)?
Answer: Look for Group Similar Faces in the Settings.
From Kelli: If they are on google photos only, how do you print them, say at Costco?
Answer: You can order prints from the For You section of Google Photos. Check the Costco website because I think they can coordinate with Google Photos.
From Cathy: Can I give one person more than 1 name? Like Lucy Haley and Mother Cline?
Answer: In the same name field. You can’t assign two completely separate names. If you include both names in the field you will be able to search for either one and retrieve the photo.
Google offers a variety of ways to help you find and search for images. In fact, there are so many different ways it can get a little confusing. In this video and article I’m going to show you how to find images and photographs that apply to your family history. Who knows, we may even find an ancestor’s photo. I’m also going to show you how you can use Google Images to even help identify some of the images and photos you have in your family scrapbooks. These are my best image search strategies and they come my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.
Follow along in the show notes below. The step-by-step instructions are available in an ad-free show notes cheat sheet which is downloadable in the Resources section at the end of these show notes. (Premium Membership required.)
How to Find Photos and Images with Google Images
When it comes to searching for images, part of the confusion comes from the fact that the search experience on desktop and mobile are a bit different. So, let’s start with running a basic image search on computer desktop. There are actually two ways to do that.
#1 Google search for images at Google.com on desktop:
Image 1: How to get to Google Images from Google.com
Run a text search: Example: John Herring
Images results will be presented
If I’m in a hurry, I’ll usually just search from Google.com because I’m probably over there anyway. But if I really want to find the best image, or I expect to do some digging, I go directly to Google Images.
How to Get the Best Google Images Results
Searching for a name is fine, but chances are there are and have been many people with that name. You’ll need to narrow things down and provide Google with more specific information about what you want.
There are a several excellent ways to refine and dramatically improve your results. The best place to start is by using a few powerful search operators.
The first search operator is quotation marks. By putting quotation marks around a word or a phrase you are telling Google that it must:
Be included in each search result,
Be spelled the way you spelled it,
And in the case of a phrase, the words must appear in the order you typed them.
You can also use an asterisk to hold the spot for a middle initial or middle name. This is important because without it, Google may pass over these since the name was presented in quotation marks which means its to be searched exactly as typed.
Notice in the following screen shot how this refined search appears. The search operators have made quite an improvement in the image results. I’ve located four photos of my great grandfather! (Image 2)
(Image 2) Google Images found photos of my great grandfather
Google might restrict how many images it shows you. Click See more anyway at the bottom of the screen to reveal all the results. (Image 3)
(Image 3) Click to see more image results
You may need to scroll down to see even more results. Click an image to preview it. (Image 4)
(Image 4) Click to preview Google Image results
Click the enlarged preview image again to visit the website where it is hosted. I’ve got my fingers crossed that since this website is hosting a photograph of my ancestors, it just might have more. And indeed, it does – genealogy happy dance! (Image 5)
(Image 5) Old family photos found on this web page
How to Narrow Down an Image Search to Old Photos
One of the ways you can zero in on old photos is by filtering down to only Black and White images. This makes sense because most of our older family photos are black and white.
On the Google Images search results page click the Tools button. This will cause a secondary menu to drop down. Click the Any Color menu and select Black and White. (Image 6)
(Image 6) How to filter Google Image results
Now all of your image results will be black and white. It’s easy to tell that most of these are older photos. (Image 7)
(Image 7) Filtered image results
Permission to Use Images Found with Google Images
If you want to use any of the photos you find, you’ll need to ensure that you have permission to do so. Start with the FAQ at Google Search Help. This page will help guide you through issues like Fair Use and how usage rights work. In the end, the best thing to do when in doubt is to contact the person who posted the photo and explore any requirements they may have regarding use of the image.
How to Use Google Images to Identify Images and Photos
Do you have unidentified photographs, old postcards or other images in your family scrapbooks or photo albums? Google Images just might be able to help!
Start by first digitizing the image (I use a flatbed scanner) and saving it to your computer hard drive. Then head to Google Images on your computer and click the camera icon in the search field. This will give you two options:
Paste URL (we’ll get to that in just a bit)
Upload an image (this is the one you want – click it)
Click Choose File and grab the photo you saved to your computer. Google Images will search the Web for that image. It may find an exact copy, or it may deliver visually similar images.
Notice on the Google Images search results page that Google has added keywords to the search field at the top of the page. You’ll also see a tiny version of the image you searched. The keywords may be rather generic such as gentleman, family, etc. Try replacing these words with more specific words about the photos and what you are looking for. For example, you could replace the word gentleman with your ancestor’s name in quotation marks, or replace the word family with the family surname and the town where they lived. Experiment and try different variations to see what provides the best results.
How to Upload an Image to Google Image Search (Reverse Search):
Navigate to and select the digitized photo you saved to your computer.
Google will attempt to find that exact image. If not the closest visually. You will see words in the search field along with your photo. These words describe what Google AI noted about the photo. For example, when I upload a photo of Margaret Scully sitting in her rocking chair, Google note “sitting” and delivered old photo of people sitting. When I upload a photo of the John Herring family Google notes “family” and provides old photos of family groups. Neither Margaret nor the Herrings are well-known, so this isn’t a surprise. If I upload a postcard from an ancestor’s scrapbook of a well-known or famous location, Google will likely find additional copies on the web and provide background information on the location and a website address for it if there is one.
You can revise this search by replacing the words that Google noted (i.e. family) with the person’s name of the surname. In the case of the John Herring group photo, I replaced family with Herring and then John Herring.
Remember the option to Paste URL? Use this when you find a photo on a website, (or if you have posted a photo on your own website or blog) and you want to find more like it. Right-click (PC – or Control Click on a Mac) on the image and Copy Image Address. Next, head back to Google Images, click the camera icon and paste the URL. Google will use that image to run your image search.
How to Search an Online Photo with Google Images (Reverse Search):
Right-click on a PC (Control Click on a Mac) on the image on the web page.
In the pop-up menu select Copy Image Address.
Go to Google Images.
Click the camera icon in the search field.
Paste the image URL that you copied to your computer clipboard (on a PC use Control V on your keyboard.)
Click the Search by Image button to run your search.
Searching with your own image or an image you find online can help you discover many more website that have the visual content you need. In this episode I searched using an Elevenses with Lisa viewer’s old photo and revised the search with the name of the town. This resulted in a wonderful assortment of websites to look at that also hosted photos from the same town and timeframe.
The initial Google Image results added the keyword gentleman to the search field. But you can see by the visually similar images it found that it was able to target photos that included more similarities than just gentleman. These photos also matched in other important ways (Image 8):
Who might have photos online of your family? Here’s just a short list of possibilities:
How to Use Google Image Search on Mobile
The Google Images camera icon allows you to conduct reverse image searches. However, whether you use a browser app like Safari or Chrome to go to Google Images or you use the Google search app, you won’t find the Google Images camera icon in the search field. Google Images is different on mobile than it is on computer desktop. The main difference is that there is no camera icon for uploading images to search. However, there’s a little secret for getting around that problem.
On an iPhone / iPad you can switch your settings for the Safari app so that it behaves more like a desktop computer. And for our purposes, that means getting the camera icon in Google Images.
How to Search Your Own Image Using Google Images on an iPhone or iPad
Open the Settings app
Scroll down and tap the Safari app
Scroll down and tap Request Desktop Website
Tap the slide to activate All Websites
Close the Settings app
Go to Google.com – if you’re signed into your account you can tap the apps icon (9 dots) and open Images or just google Google Images
Now you have the camera icon in your search bar ready to reverse search images!
How to Reverse Search a Web Image on an iPhone or iPad (Reverse Search Images)
When you find a photograph on a website in Safari, press and hold the image
Go to Google Images (after changing your settings to Desktop Website)
Tap the camera icon
In the Paste URL field press and hold and tap Paste
The web image URL will appear in the search field.
Tap the Search by Image button to run your search.
These days we are all collecting more ebooks than ever before. We also have more devices than we’ve ever had before. Here’s a solution that gives you access to your ebooks from one convenient location no matter which device you are using.
The Advantage of eBooks
While you may love the feel of the pages of a book rifling through your fingers, there is a distinct advantage to collecting many of your genealogical reference materials and books ebooks. They don’t take up precious shelf space in your house!
However, I don’t live in a digital fantasy-land. I’m keenly aware that there are some challenges you may want to avoid:
purchasing an ebook and downloading it to one device, and then trying to figure out how to access it on your other devices
corralling your ebooks from different sources all together
having to pay for an app or web service to manage them
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
If you’ve ever attended one of my genealogy classes, or watched one of my videos, at some point you’ve probably heard me say that I use Google Books on a daily basis for genealogy. I don’t say that just because the service provides access to over 25 million books, many of them fully digitized and searchable, and downloadable. It also provides you with your own personal library. Let’s take a look at how Google Books and Google Play Books work together to make that possible:
Google Books is a free and powerful service that also allows you to have your own library within it called My Library. As you search for and find ebooks to aid you in your genealogical research, you can save them to your library.
Google Play Books, is sort of the other side of Google Books. It is a vast ebook store that includes a feature called My Books. When you purchase an ebook, it is saved to your My Books. However, it also includes all ebooks that you have saved to your Google Books My Library. Even better, it allows you to upload your own ebooks! This makes it a central clearinghouse for all of your ebooks.
Here’s the bottom line. Think of My Books and My Library as the same thing in two different places: a personal library for your free, purchased and uploaded ebooks. The only reason they have different names is because Google Books has evolved over time into a book store as well. Don’t worry about that. Just know that whether you are searching through Google Books, or shopping in the Play book store, your library is right there with you, no matter what device you are using.
How to Start Using your Google Play Books Library
To get started, all you need is a free Google account, which you very likely already have. Go to https://play.google.com/books and sign in. In the menu on the left, click My Books. If you have ever saved a free ebook to your My Library in Google Books you should now see it on your screen.
This library is a place where you can save, upload, and access your digital books from any mobile device. This means everything is conveniently in one place, and accessible from all of your computing devices, both Apple and Android. You’ll have the freedom to read your favorite books on the go, and to access your digital genealogy research library at the drop of a hat.
Yes, there are some other services out there that could also do the job. But if you’re like me and don’t want to invest the time to learn and pay for yet another tech tool, Google Play Books is a great solution, because we are already using Google Books for our genealogy research.
How to Upload Your Own eBooks to Your Google Play Books Library
Let me walk you through the simple steps to putting this free tool to work for you:
1. First, open your web browser and log in to your Google account.
4. Select your ebook files from your computer folders, or drag them into the box shown. You can also click on My Drive to select files from Google Drive. You can choose epub documents or PDFs.
Now, let me stop right here for a second and distinguish between doing this on a computer, and doing it on a tablet or smartphone. What I’m illustrating here is on a computer. I always recommend when you purchase ebooks to download them first to your computer, regardless of whether you plan on uploading them to Google Play Books. However, if you do want to do this on a tablet, for example, there are currently two options from which to pull your ebooks:
“My Drive” which is Google Drive, or
click “Select files from your computer” then tap “More” and select Dropbox.
Trust me, things will work more smoothly if you use your main computer as your hub for downloading, and then upload directly to your Google Books library.
Other things that are good to know:
It may take a minute or two to upload an entire book.
The cover will be the title page, not the actual dust-jacket cover you might be used to.
Currently, you can only search within books you obtain from Google (both free and paid), not the ones you upload.
You can upload 1,000 books into your Google Play Books library.
It’s private. Your books are only visible to you when you login to your Google account; you’re not sharing them with the world.
Your Google Books Library on Your Mobile Device
So now you have found free historical ebooks on Google Books (if you haven’t, take a moment and click here to read my article about using Google Books) and saved them to your Google Books My Library. Then, you uploaded your own ebooks and PDFs to Google Play Books. The final step is to jump on all of your smartphones and tablets and head to the app store. Search for Google Play Books and download the free Google Play Books app to each device. Sign in to the app with your same free Google account, and you’ll have access to all of your ebooks. Your library can now travel with you in your purse or tucked into your pocket.
In the app, tap the three horizontal lines icon in the upper left corner, and then tap My Library. You’ll find your ebooks sorted under the following tabs:
By tapping the three uneven horizontal lines icon in the upper right corner, in each category you can sort your books by:
Those Pesky Variable Formats
eBooks come in several different formats. While I’m not covering in this article how to convert file types or deal with DRM protected books, there are resources available to help you do so.
The answer? Just Google It!
And if you need help figuring out how to effectively Google search, I have a book for that!The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox–the ultimate guide to using all of Google, including a full chapter on Google Books.
PDF – I Love You!
Many white-papers, scholarly works, and quick reference guides come in PDF format, and they upload like a breeze.
PDFs are so versatile, and they play ever-so-nicely with Google Play Books. It’s just another reason to love your Google Books library.
Stock Your Google Books Library
Are you feeling like your Google Books Library has room to fill? All of our quick reference guides are easy-to-upload PDFs, and all of the following genealogy resources are available as digital downloads in the Genealogy Gems store:
For a hand-picked list of novels and other great leisure reading for genealogy lovers, visit the Genealogy Gems Book Club page. I know you’re going to love our suggested best-sellers and best-kept-secrets about family, the search for identity, and fascinating stories in history.
One thing that many genealogists have in common is a connection to Pennsylvania. Perhaps one of your family tree branches extends back to the early founding of the Pennsylvania colony. Or it may be that one of your ancestors was one of the hundreds of thousands who arrived through the port of Philadelphia. Even if you don’ t have Pennsylvania ancestors the State Library of Pennsylvania has a lot to offer.
Genealogy at the State library of Pennsylvania
In this episode I’ll be sharing with you a video of my interview with two librarians from the State Library of Pennsylvania. We’ll discuss their collections and specifically what’s available through their website. After the interview I’ll show you some specific search techniques that you can use at the State Library of Pennsylvania website, including a trick that you can use with any state library website.
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 46 Show Notes
My special Guests from the State Library of Pennsylvania: Kathy Hale, Government Documents Librarian
Amy Woytovich, Genealogy Librarian
This interview was recorded in December 2020. Here’s the latest update (as of this writing) on the library closure and access:
The State Library is currently closed to all visitors. However, staff is teleworking. People may send inquiries to email@example.com staff will answer questions as best they can.
Renovations have begun on our library in the Forum Building. There may be times we cannot get to the materials requested because of the construction.
Interlibrary loan services are available, but patrons must check if their home library has the equipment and are open for patrons to use that equipment. The Library still ships all over the U.S.
Watch their website for instructions on how to access the State Library of Pennsylvania when it does reopen to the public.
The State Library of Pennsylvania Background
The library has been a federal repository library since 1858, and is one of the oldest in the country. The government printing office deposits materials here.
The State Library of Pennsylvania Collection
The State Library of Pennsylvania physical collection includes:
100,000 reels of microfilm
A million pieces of microfiche
The State Library of Pennsylvania digitized items include:
County and family histories
Small church histories from rural areas
Regimental histories (Revolution to Spanish-American War)
Pennsylvania Published Archives (collection of military, government, marriage, immigration records from colonial times)
The 1940 U.S. Federal Census
Pennsylvania Documents Example: a report for Pennsylvania of the 25th and 50th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg. Includes information gathered at reunions including names, pictures, and more.
U.S. Government Documents – Serial Set This collection includes reports to the legislature from agencies and institutions. Example: The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) were compelled to provide to Congress a yearly report of the names of people approved by DAR. These can be accessed through many libraries, the federal government or by contacting the State Library of Pennsylvania via email:Rafirstname.lastname@example.org
State Library of Pennsylvania Research Guides
Amy discusses research guides available on the website. However, here is the linkto the topics she specifically mentions such as Cemeteries and Zeamer collection – recorded information about Cumberland County PA cemeteries. General Research Guides page. These research guide pages include links to additional helpful websites.
State Library of Pennsylvania website’s Genealogy Page
The library’s collection of newspapers includes papers from all 67 Pennsylvania counties on microfilm. They do have a lot of digitized newspapers at the Pennsylvania Photos and Documents Collection at the Power Library.
Newspapers at the Power Library
The Power Library
You can find the Power Library by going to the libraries home page, and under the For General Public tab go to Our Collections > PowerLibrary. Or visit the Power Library website at Powerlibrary.org.
Electronic Databases: you have to be a resident with a library card.
Digital Documents: you don’t have to be a Pennsylvanian to access this collection.
At the top of the Power Library home page on the right you’ll find Digital Docs and Photos:
Pennsylvania Photos and Documents Collection at the Power Library.
There you will find many materials from Pennsylvania colleges including yearbooks. You can browse by subject area, with Genealogy being one of those areas.
Interlibrary Loan and Lookups
At the time of the interview the library was not open for interlibrary loan and lookups. Check the website for the latest updates.
The library does loan its newspaper microfilm. Up to 5 reels of microfilm per request. Kathy says that if you find a newspaper article at Newspapers.com and you see the title, date and the page that an article is on, you can provide the information to the interlibrary load reference librarian at your local library and place a request for a scan of the article from the State Library of PA microfilm. The article can then be returned to you digitally through interlibrary loan. The digitized scan is yours to keep.
The Librarians Favorite Collections
Amy’s Pick: Historic maps found at the library’s website Home > For General Public > Genealogy and Local History > Maps and Geographic Information. This includes Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. Note: log in with a library card may be required. Contact the library with questions.
Kathy’s favorite collections include:
Map Collection consisting of over 35,000 maps.
The 5 generations from the Mayflower collection.
Usage of Materials
Usage rights and copyright are important considerations when utilizing library materials. Usage depends on the individual item’s copyright. It should be researched as much as possible. Check the meta data of digital images for copyright information.
How to Get Research Help from the State Library of Pennsylvania
“Think of Amy and I as your personal librarians.” Kathy Hale, Librarian
Contact State Library staff by phone at 717-787-2324 or by email at:
Lisa’s Tips for Using the State Library of Pennsylvania Website
Maps for Genealogy
At the website go to Home page > General Public Tab > Our Collections > Search our Resources.
Type in a location and the word map
Use the filters on the right side of the page > Library > State Library
Click to select a map
Try filtering to Full Text Online
Look for the Online Access link, just above Text Item Call Number.
On the map viewer page, click the thumbnail button (looks like a checkerboard) to see multiple pages at a time. You’ll find the Download button in the bottom right-hand corner. The Print button is in the upper right corner.
Cite your source: Go back to the result page, and scroll down. Click the red button called Cite This. This allows you to copy the source citation which you can then paste into other documents and programs.
Newspapers for Genealogy
The Library of Congress Chronicling America website has many Pennsylvania old newspapers, but it doesn’t include all of the newspaper that the library has in its collection. Here’s how to find old Pennsylvania newspapers at the State Library website:
On the State Library website go to General Public > Research Guides > Newspapers
Click the link to the Pennsylvania Newspaper Archive
Browse by title or date, or use the drop-down menus
On the viewer page, zoom into the desired article. Then click Clip/Print Image
Right-click on the clipped image to save it to your hard drive.
The Persistent link is the URL address to your clipping.
Many websites have their own search engine. However, each search engine is only as good as it was programmed. If you can’t find what you want on a website like the State Library PA website, try using a Google site search. Site search tells Google to search for your search terms only on the website you specify.
In my example in the video, you can see that Google found the one page mentioning the surname in a listing of microfilms much faster than I would have found it digging around and navigating the website itself. This page was not a card catalog entry so it would not have come up in a search of the catalog on the website.
Learn More About the State Library of PA Collections
In episode 43 of Elevenses with Lisa we discussed genealogy records available for free at the Internet Archive. The State Library of Pennsylvania has been partnering with he Internet Archive to digitize many additional items from their collection. You can access these items for free at the State Library Internet Archive Collection. This collection includes a large number of World War I materials as well as a growing number of 19th and 20th century pamphlet volumes.
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