Category Archives: Digital Collections

A Baker’s Dozen of Tips: Searching for Digitized Books

As you may have noticed, I have been working madly, compiling links to digitized county histories. One of my mother’s favorite sayings – Practice makes Perfect – certainly applies to my situation and I’ve learned a lot about searching for digitized books, in general.

Here are some tips that will increase your chance of success when you search for digitized books online – not just county histories.

  1. Internet Archive has the most robust collection of books which are no longer under copyright restriction.
  2. Hathtrust is most likely to have digital books which would be under copyright, except an author or other owner has waived their rights and allowed the book to be digitized.
  3. FamilySearch is the most likely to have locally printed books in any time period, right up into the 21st century, as they have obtained permission to digitize from the copyright owner.
  4. FamilySearch CATALOG and FamilySearch BOOKS DO NOT bring the same results in a search. BOOKS includes all repositories in the FamilySearch partnership.
  5. Google Books has the weakest collection of digitized books, measured by my own experience.
  6. Having read #1-5, in this list, be aware that there are exceptions to each. You need to search multiple places. I can’t count how many times I’ve found a digitized book on only ONE website.
  7. There are many different renditions of digitized books. Some copies are so faint, they are almost impossible to read, while others probably have better image quality than the originals. Be sure to browse various pages to be sure they are of good quality. This is more likely to be an issue on Internet Archive than the other site.
  8. The Internet Archive search engine can be slow – 30 seconds or more to load – and it sometimes gets hung up. If that happens, close the browser and reopen a new tab.
  9. Typos in search terms can most definitely affect your search results. Internet Archive is unforgiving with typos and doesn’t like too many words, so if your book title is lengthy, search with just enough of the beginning words to narrow your results.
  10. Frequently, the book one searches for is NOT the first item in the results list. You may need to scroll down the page to find what you are looking for.
  11. There are books long out of copyright which can’t be found on any of the major sites I’ve mentioned. Filby noted in A Bibliography of American County Histories that some volumes have been lost and not a single copy has been located.
  12. If there is a book which you feel should be in digitized format, take some extra time to hunt for it. Be aware that I’ve found books with typos on the website and I’ve also found, in two cases, where the county was assigned to the wrong state, so when I included the state in the book title, no results came up. For example, let’s say that county Xyzxyz exists in three different states. The book I wanted to view was from State #1, but the data entry person erred and placed it in the collection with State #3. When I searched for “History of Xyzxyz, State #1”, nothing appeared. When I searched only for “History of Xyzxyz,” the book was in the results list and when I examined the bibliographic information, I saw that it was ascribed to the wrong state.
  13. Remember that digitized books are part of an expanding collection. With each passing year, new books are no longer under copyright restrictions and are being added to digital online collections. No, it’s not all online and probably never will be. If you can’t find a digitized copy of your book, try interlibrary loan or, if you are really desperate, purchase a copy.

Happy Hunting!

Accessing Digital Books Online for Genealogical Research

How often do you wish you could get your hands on “the” book that might provide new information about ancestors in your family tree? It might be much easier than you think.

There are digitized books available for free on several different sites and the ability to locate them is as close as your computer search engine.

Online books seem to be another one of those vastly underused resources available to genealogists. Books under copyright (published later than 1923) for the most part won’t be available for free online unless the author specifically gives permission. Occasionally, I have come across a handful of such books, but they are few and far between.

Many family historians also seem to believe that books published decades or even centuries ago are not suitable for modern day research. Those early genealogically-oriented books are just as reliable as books published in the 20th or 21st century. As with any source, it is up to the researcher to determine whether or not the information is trustworthy.

Those who pass up the opportunity to read what others have published might be missing a chance to uncover new branches of the family tree or, at the least, glean new clues for future research.

Now that I’ve convinced you to search out books online, where should you begin looking?

WorldCat should be your first stop if you know the title of the book.

Although you can sign up for a free account, one isn’t required to do searches. WorldCat will not only list the closest libraries to you that have a physical copy of the book, it will include other formats available, such as PDF or other digital files.

FamilySearch, Google Books and Internet Archive are the other major repositories with digital books available.

FamilySearch searches not only its own collection of books, but the collections of 15 other libraries:

While FamilySearch is limited to genealogical and historically related topics, GoogleBooks offers a much wider range of subject matter. However, you must have an author’s name, a title or a somewhat narrow subject range or you will be reviewing many (unrelated) hits.

I entered Tarbox as a search term, as the surname is fairly unique and limited. There are 274,000 results!

Internet Archive has a growing collection of digital books on a variety of topics. A search for Tarbox on this website brought up 209 hits.

Both Google Books and Internet Archive are more cumbersome to plod through, but each collection is unique and worth the time to browse reasonable numbers of hits.

To reiterate about copyright restrictions, it is important to remember with the beginning of each new calendar year, volumes published long ago emerge from copyright restrictions and what wasn’t accessible last year might be this year.

It’s also important to remember that there are MANY – thousands – of books published before the current cutoff year for copyright restriction that haven’t yet been digitized.

Online collections are growing by leaps and bounds. take the time to search out online books to find new clues about your family tree or to verify previously found data. You won’t be disappointed.

New GeneaGem: U.S. State Digital Collections

Historical materials, whether found in person at a state library or archive, at a historical society, a religious repository or in a local library are vastly underused resources for painting a picture and telling the story of our ancestors’ lives.

Our families are more than vital records – births, marriages and deaths. Sadly, some of our ancestors left little more than tiny crumbs on the bread trail, but that shouldn’t stop us from sharing the stories of their daily lives.

This is possible when we apply a historical context to our stories. Besides having a basic knowledge of local and national history, we need to remember that one picture, as the saying goes, is worth a thousand words.

Digital online collections provided resources to help us tell each story and the best thing is that every state has now established some type of digital collection online, available for free to the general public AND the online collections are growing almost by the day.

What kinds of things will you find in these collections? Well, the subject matter varies from place to place, but I will say upfront that, unless your family member was famous in some way, it isn’t likely that you will encounter family-specific items in these collections.

Instead, collections might contain early photos of an area, posters denoting public events, along with biographical and historical details about notable persons.

Colorado Virtual Library has built a biographical collection, including photos, of famous and infamous Colorado citizens.

Iowa Heritage Digital Collections showcases a variety of categories – Events, Industry and Commerce, People, Places, Publications, Societies and War/Conflict.

Rhode Island has some limited virtual exhibits, along with vintage photographs.

Texas Digital Archive shares many historical images from early Texas history.

Some state collections are much more robust than others, but the important word here to remember is “growing.” Therefore, if your state of interest doesn’t have much to offer right now, you still need to make it a habit to check for updates every few months. Also, please remember that these collections are NOT indicative of vital record databases, etc., that might also be available in the state of interest. These are historical images and documents. Eventually, every state collection will be a true “GeneaGem.”

Here are links to the U.S. state collections:

Alabama Mosaic
Alaska’s Digital Archives
Arizona Memory Project
Arkansas History Commission (AHC)
Online Archive of California
Colorado Virtual Library
Connecticut Digital Collections
State of Delaware – Digital Archives
Florida Memory
Georgia’s Virtual Vault 
Hawaii State Archives Digital Collections
Idaho State Archives
Illinois Digital Archives
Indiana Digital Archives
Iowa Heritage Digital Collections
Kansas Memory
Kentucky Digital Library
Louisiana Digital Library
Maine Memory Network
Archives of Maryland Online
Massachusetts State Archives
Seeking Michigan
Minnesota Digital Library
Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH Digital Archives)
Missouri Digital Heritage
Montana Memory Project
Nebraska State Historical Society
Nevada State Library, Archives and Public Records Digital Collections
New Hampshire Historical Society
New Jersey Digital Highway
New Mexico’s Digital Collections
New York State Archives’ Digital Collections
North Carolina Digital Collections
State Historical Society of North Dakota
Ohio Memory
Oklahoma Digital Prairie
Oregon State Archives
Pennsylvania State Archives
Rhode Island State Archives – Digital Library
South Carolina Digital Library
South Dakota State Library
Tennessee Virtual Archive
Texas Digital Archive
Digital Utah
Vermont State Archives
Library of Virginia
Washington State Digital Archives
Wisconsin Historical Society
Wyoming State Archives