I love Google Books research tips for genealogists–and this researcher sent me a fabulous one! Here’s what she did when Google Books didn’t give her everything she’d hoped for. And here’s where she finally found the full text of a book that wasn’t on Google Books.
Google Books is a vast and free virtual library that’s literally available at our fingertips–but it’s greatly underused. So I love teaching Google Books research tips for family history, and then hearing success stories from listeners and readers. Here’s one I think you’ll love, with a great message about following through after “partial” discoveries.
Google Books vs. a genealogy brick wall
Was Jesse Purdy a longtime Loyalist or Revolutionary War veteran? Marci wrote in about a mysterious ancestor whose political loyalties seemed conflicted. She’d found a man by his name who was a Revolutionary War soldier and then another who appears in records as a Loyalist (a British subject who remained loyal to the Crown when the American colonies rebelled).
“I knew my Jesse also went by Justus and I found his Revolutionary War pension records, learned he died in 1840 in Bovina, New York and was a patriot,” she wrote. She had identified him as the son of Thomas Purdy and Rachael Odgen, but that particular Jesse “was listed as a Loyalist and…died in Ontario in 1819….It never made sense that he lived out his life (and all his children were born) in New York state.”
When she looked on Google Books for ‘Justus Purdy,’ she found a tantalizing “snippet view” of a book called The Purdy Family in New Brunswick and Elizabethtown, Ontario:
She thought the book might go on to mention his parents, but in this case, the full text of the book is not available on Google Books, so she could only see the snippet.
Google Books research tip: Follow all leads!
As you can imagine, Marci really wanted to see this book. She says, “I am retired, living in Mexico, so I don’t have InterLibrary Loan (click here to read more about using this with WorldCat). I was about to email a…cousin to see it they would order it when I thought, “NO, Lisa would look for other sources on Google search first. So I did, and found the full text on FamilySearch. And (drum roll please) here it is! Lots on Jesse the Loyalist (nothing more on Justus the Patriot):”
“So it goes,” she concludes. “I have another source and I’m still looking for parents.”
Good for her for persevering until she found the full text of the book! I love how she widened her search past Google Books to a more universal Google search (click here to learn free Google search tips). That led her to another vast, free online library, FamilySearch.org’s free Family History Books search page, a search portal for more than 350,000 digitized family history-related books. Here’s the Purdy family history book on that site:
More Google Books research tips
Click here to read another inspiring success story with several Google Books research tips. Genealogy Gems Premium subscribers can take their Google Books searches to the next level after watching my full-length tutorial video, “Google Books for Genealogy.” Discover the best techniques for finding fully digitized books FAST, and search secrets for locating genealogical data. Learn to translate foreign language volumes from your ancestor’s homeland and even track down maps, images, photos and more.
About the Author
Lisa Louise Cooke is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.
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.
Images make your family history more vivid. But how can you find just the right pictures to illustrate your family stories? These short, free video tutorials help genealogists find images online for family history.
When it comes to sharing your family history, pictures are not only worth a thousand words: they’re priceless. A single image can convey an ancestor’s physical appearance, mood or attitude, living or working conditions, social environment, and more. Pictures catch the eye whether they are on coffee tables, hanging on the wall in frames, or shared with loved ones on social media, where they are oh-so-clickable.
So I was happy to get this email from Phyllis, asking for some tips on how to find images online for family history:
“Hi Lisa, I know you’ve told us before what some great resources are for locating historical photos and images. I’m looking for some from the Ragtime era (1895-1918). I don’t find much at the Library of Congress. Can you send me a few links to some of your podcasts that delve into where to find images? Thank you for all the hard work you do for the genealogy world.”
How to Find Images Online for Family History
Most recently, I shared some tips for finding images in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 194. But I also recommend this series of short video tutorials, which show you exactly how to do this.
How to Find Images Online: Use Google Images
The first place I search online for images for family history is Google Images. Watch this brief tutorial video to see how to find images using your Google web browser:
If you want to use your tablet or smartphone to find images for family history, here’s another short tutorial just for you:
How to Find Images Online: Image Search in Google Books
When I am looking for pictures of people, places, buildings, historical events, maps, and other images that commonly appear in books, I also search Google Books separately for pictures that haven’t shown up in the main Google search results. You can do that, too! Here’s how:
After you’ve found images via Google Books, you’ll want to save them. Here’s one last quick video to show you how:
Using the tips given in the above video tutorials, I can run a Google search to answer Phyllis’s specific question. I’ll type ragtime era as a keyword phrase and enter the range of years, separated by two dots and no spaces, to tell Google to search for any numbers within that range. Then, as shown below, I’ll click Images to limit the results to pictures:
The Image search results include some fun photos, including a photo of a ragtime band, several sheet music covers, illustrations of “ragtime dress” and even a link to old video footage:
Click on an interesting-looking image to see a larger version and more details about it, including the website that’s hosting it. You’ll also see the options to click through to the webpage on which that image is found (“Visit page”), or to click through to the URL for that image (“View image”):
When I want to use an image, I will take one additional step: Click the TOOLS button and select Labeled for reuse from the Usage rights menu. This generally filters my results down to those that don’t have copyright restrictions on them (although it’s up to me to verify this and cite the image appropriately when I use it). Here’s what it looks like to filter my results to those labeled for reuse:
Unfortunately, in this case, when I do this, all search results disappear. If you want to use images for your own personal use, try the Labeled for noncommercial reuse option. Not all images that are copyright free or in the public domain will be marked, so if you don’t find what you need, go back to your original search results and look at individual images that you like to see whether any of them come from government, wiki, or other websites that commonly offer copyright-free images. Click through to read any image restrictions or use policies posted on the site, or contact the site for permission to use them. In this case, I do find several hosted by libraries, and I will focus on them.
One last tip: filter your search results again for Videos, instead of for Images. An entirely new set of search results will appear, largely from YouTube but also from other websites:
If the spirit and movement of ragtime during this time period is what you’re looking for, watch these videos! They may not work for you if you need static images for a book, but they’re great for sharing on your family history blog or in a social media post. Just click through to the video page, click Share and copy and paste the Embed code onto your site.
The Genealogy Gems YouTube channel is a vast resource. I invite you to visit, explore, and subscribe. In addition to tech tip video demos such as these, you’ll also find interviews with genealogy experts. research tips for maps, newspapers and other record types, how-to series for family history blogging, creating videos, and using Evernote for genealogy, family history craft tutorials and more! Here’s a tip: Use the search box to find what you’d like to watch. (Google search operators work in YouTube searches, too. Use them to zero in on the video or podcast episode you want.)
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.
We have five strategies for researching disasters for family history. They come in response to a listener email about her own “disaster-prone family.” Use these tips to learn about natural or man-made disasters, epidemics, travel accidents, and more that affected your ancestors, and very possibly more about your ancestors role in these events.
View of Eastland taken from Fire Tug in river, showing the hull resting on it’s side on the river bottom. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view with full citation.
It might seem a little sad to search out disasters, epidemics, and accidents in the lives of your ancestors, but it certainly helps us see things in a different light. Genealogy Gems Editor Sunny Morton has shared recently how enthralling it has been for her to dig deeper into her ancestor’s experience of living through the Johnstown Flood. She used many of the tools I write about extensively in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox (Google Books, Google Earth Pro, and even YouTube) to add an amazing amount of meat to the bones of the story.
I also recently received an inspiring letter from Natalie, a Genealogy Gems Premium Member about how researching disasters in her family history turned her into a passionate genealogist. Here’s what she said:
“Dear Lisa and Company,
I just subscribed to your Premium podcast and must say that listening to Premium Podcast episode 143 affirmed that I made an excellent decision!
I also had family members who were in the Johnstown Flood, since that’s where my family initially immigrated. My parents and I were born there and [I] have heard of stories of the Great Flood of 1889 since I can remember. There was a long-standing family story about my 2nd great-aunt, Julia Pfeiffer Rohr, being pulled out of the floodwaters by her hair.
Ironically or not, my ancestors relocated to Chicago a few years after the Johnstown Flood, only to have my maternal grandmother’s sister (who was a few months away from her 19th birthday) killed while aboard the Eastland [steamship in 1915]. Not sure why some families are ‘disaster prone’ through the generations, but ours seems to be one of those.
I learned about the Eastland Disaster as an adult when my mother’s half-sister in Chicago wrote and shared a family history with me. As a Twin Cities journalist, I published an article (click here and go to page 5) in one of the community newspapers about the disaster.
Still, at the time, I found next to nothing on the Eastland, which was both frustrating and puzzling. [Since then,] I’ve done a ton of research on the event and have written larger pieces, including a to-be published book. I didn’t intend to become an expert on a shipping disaster, but that’s what happened. Also, this marked my entrance into the amazing world of family history.”
5 Tips for Researching Disasters in Family History
Learn more about the disasters your own family experienced with these 5 tips that I shared with Natalie in the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 145. Although these tips are for researching the Eastland disaster specifically, you can absolutely put them to work for you!
1. Start with Google.The world’s leading search engine, Google.com can lead to rich resources you may never find in a local library or archive. In the case of the Eastland disaster, a Google search immediately brought up a website dedicated to the event. The casualty list had everyone’s name, age, gender, marital status, ethnicity, and the cemetery in which they were buried.
2.Next, we go to Google Books, where Google takes you deeper and more specifically into historical books. Using the Eastland disaster as our criteria, the first result was a published final report by the American Red Cross’ disaster relief committee on what happened, and how the affected families were helped. Several published histories of the disaster were also listed there. These can be purchased, or you can find copies of them through inter-library loan at your local library. If you just want to see which books in the search results can be read for free, click the Tools button under the search box, and a new menu bar will pop up. Click Any books, then choose Free Google eBooks, like so:
Watch my free video tutorial on finding free e-books on Google. This video is one in a series of tech tip videos available for free at my YouTube channel. Click the Subscribe button while you’re there and you will be notified each time a new genealogy video is published.
3. Keep checking back! New things come online every moment of every day. In 2015, historical video footage about the Eastland disaster was discovered and identified in an online archive (see my blog post about that). But of course it’s impossible to rerun the same searches every day looking for new and updated material. The answer: set up a Google Alert for your search query. That way Google will do the searching for you, and you will receive an email only when Google finds new and updated items that match your search terms. Read my article on How to Set-up Google Alerts for step by step instructions on how to set up your own Google Alerts. Then read How to get the Most out of your Google Alerts for Genealogy.
5. Explore Gendisasters.com.This site compiles information on all kinds of tragedies from the past: tornadoes, fires, floods, and buggy-related disasters are just a small sampling of what they cover. You can search by type of disaster, but if you’re not quite sure how it might be filed (like was it a drowning or a ship disaster?), then search by year or place. I looked for Eastland disaster first under ship disasters, and I saw that events are listed alphabetically by place, specifically by city in most cases. There isn’t a way to jump easily to “Chicago,” so I had to scroll through several pages, but I did find it under Chicago, IL Steamer Eastland Disaster, July 1915. Since I already knew the city and date, I could have gotten to it faster by searching under those tabs, but I sure saw just how many events are cataloged at Gendisasters.com. It’s amazing!
Avoid Disaster with the Right Tools
Lastly, some of the disasters you are researching may have a website dedicated to it. The Eastland disaster webpage has several interesting pictures of the ship and the disaster itself. There’s a nice long narrative about the tragedy and some transcribed newspaper articles, as well.
Researching disasters for family history can be exciting and enjoyable. The world wide web is truly like a time machine. See what other ways you can use Google for genealogy in my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.Effective Google searches, Google Earth, Google Alerts, and Google Translate are just the tip of the iceberg! You will become a Google guru in no time.