20 September 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Using Google Books to Trace My Family Tree

Some of your ancestors might be hiding in books. And Google will help you find them from the comfort of your own home.

If you didn’t know, Google has decided to scan every book it can get it’s hands on and allow users to perform a full text search in all these books. Then they can either display a ‘Full View’ of the book, a ‘Preview’ or nothing at all. It all depends on copyright laws and agreements with publishers. But I’m getting into too much detail already.

I use Google Books to trace my family tree all the time. I just head over to Google Books and enter a name. For this post I’ll use another one of my wife’s 2nd-great-grandfathers for this example – Conrad Auth. The same search parameters apply as with any other Google search so this time I just went ahead and entered his name in quotes. The first result is a book written by James Conrad Auth in 1976 and published by Iowa State University. A quick look at my database shows me that there are several matches for this name and I quickly add this to my to do list.

But the second result is fantastic! The book “Sons and Daughters of Labor: Class and Clerical Work in Turn-Of-The-Century Pittsburgh” is in preview mode which means that sometimes if you’re lucky you will get to see complete sections of the book, but sometimes just snippets. I got lucky this time because this book has a whole section about Charles Auth, Conrad’s son:

From here, I can add the book to my library which makes it easy to find next time or if the book is in ‘Full View’ I can even save it as a PDF to my hard drive. in ‘Full View’ you can clip  a piece of the page or convert it to plain text, which makes it easy to copy in and paste into your records. There are also links to places where you can buy the book or find it in a library near you.

Here’s another tip. Sometimes when your search results bring up a preview or a ‘Snippet View’ the results page will show some information from the book when the actual text can’t be displayed. What you can do there is search around these results to see other snippets of the text that will give you a better view of what you are looking for and perhaps some additional information. Michael John Neill, in his fantastic weekly newsletter Casefile Clues (Volume 1 Number 26) does a great job of explaining this better than I ever would.

I would also suggest that you watch this short video by Miriam Midkiff (and don’t miss her awesome blog as well) about using Google Book Search:

Google says there are around 130 million books in the world (they have a great post on the official Google Books Blog about it) so the chances that some of your ancestors are in one of them is pretty high. Try it out and tell us what you found in the comments!

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