07 April 2008

Google Books and Genealogy

For this installment of my series on utilizing Google tools in your genealogy research, we are going to poke around a little in Google Books, a functionality which essentially allows you to do a full-text search of thousands of books. If you haven't taken the time to check out Google Books, or if you haven't used it lately, I hope this brief introduction to some of the major components of a Google Book Search will excite you to explore this tool in more depth on your own.

If you are using an iGoogle page to organize some of your online research tools, there is a module which will link directly to your personalized Google Library (called "My Library" within this application) and allows you to search Google Books from your iGoogle page.

Here's a glance at mine:

Perhaps not the most visually exciting thing in the world, but useful nonetheless. Searches done from the module, as I have done below, can also be done from the main Google Books page at books.google.com.

Finding Resources and Understanding Results

In this instance, I want to find information on genealogies written about Burgess families. I can type my search term into the module, and a small list of results shows up in the module itself:

The search yields a number of interesting results. Clicking on the first result brings me to a detail page on that publication, which we will study in three parts:

1. About this book. This section provides information on the publication, much like a copyright page. It includes original publication information, as well as details on from what depository (and when) the work was digitized.

Because this particular work is in the public domain, there are two buttons beneath the book image: one which will allow you to read the publication online, and another that will allow you to download a PDF of the work. As the size of the PDFs are generally quite large, this may be prohibitive for some users, so Google provides the option of adding the book to "My Library" which is a way to "bookmark" publications of interest, and return to them whenever you want.

2. Locating this publication. On the right-hand side is where you can find information on locating copies of a publication for purchase or borrowing. Obviously, in this case, the point is moot, since I can readily access the electronic version linked to on the left-hand side of the page. However, for books which are not in the public domain, and therefore are not readily accessible, this information becomes much more important. Typically, items in Google books are presented in one of three ways: Full view (public domain items fully readable and also download-able), Snippet-view (short passages or a limited number of pages available for view), or No Preview (searchable, but not readable at all online). For snippet and no preview items, being able to purchase the book may be a preference for some users.

Of particular interest for many publications (many of which may be out of print) is the link reading "Find this Book in a Library". Clicking on this link will take you to the information page in WorldCat, a global library catalog. Clicking on this link for my example Burgess Genealogy yields the following page:

WorldCat finds 55 repositories with my publication of interest, and sorts them according to distance from my home zipcode. I can now go to the library of interest, or contact my local library regarding options for interlibrary loan.

3. Reading this book. For books with content online, this area typically provides the table of contents, for an easy jump-off point to browsing the book. Also important is the section marked "Search in this book", which will allow you to utilize standard and advanced search term constructions to search within the book.

There are a number of other tools on the "About this book" page, including Google Maps modules which plot all localities mentioned in the book, and also a Web References section which links to web pages which mention the book you are looking at. All can be very helpful in finding new information, or identifying publications of interest.

I hope that this brief introduction prompts you to explore Google books, and see what it can do for you. I have had success just searching for names of ancestors to see what comes up. Searches for an ancestor of mine who was a doctor yielded letters to the editor of a medical journal from the early 20th century, as well as mention in the proceedings of a post-WWI senate hearing. For the former, the journals were public domain, so I was able to read the letters in full (and find out my ancestor had a great sense of humor along with a good dose of professionalism). For the latter publication, which was only available in snippet view, I could tell that a letter my ancestor wrote regarding his son's service in France during WWI was read to the senate panel. The book is out of print, but using WorldCat I was able to locate the volume in a university library, and can now order the volume via interlibrary loan.

Next time we will look into Google Reader and learn how to tame the ever-growing blog jungle.

'Till then, I remain,

1 comment:

Thomas MacEntee said...

Excellent post and you actually taught me that I didn't know everything about Google Books!