Google created a big stir two years ago when the company announced that it would start scanning books and making the full text of millions of out-of-copyright books online. Books within copyright are also available although limited in the amount of information that may be retrieved. You can read several articles that I have written about this in the past two years here. Google has since been working diligently at making millions of books available, and the effort is now beginning to pay off for genealogists.
I don't know what percentage of the old books being scanned are genealogy works. However, even if it is only one percent of all the books, one percent of several million is still a lot of books! A simple search for the word "genealogy" on books.google.com returns 468,000 pages. That doesn't include books with the word "genealogy" missing in the titles, such as "The Vital Records of (insert name of town here)."
This week I wanted to find some information that I suspected was listed in the vital records for the town of Arlington, Massachusetts. I knew the book "Vital Records of Arlington, Massachusetts, to the Year 1850" was printed in 1904, well before the start of copyright laws. The 162-page book is described as "An alphabetic index to the manuscript records of the town, supplemented by information from church registers, cemetery inscriptions and other sources."
I do not own a copy of the book, and the nearby libraries are closed on Sundays, the only day of the week when I have time to conduct my genealogy research.
The book I wanted was originally printed by the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS). In fact, you can purchase the book today from NEHGS for $33.00 plus postage. However, this week I found that anyone can search the same book on Google at no charge. Best of all, unlike printed books, every word is searchable. In fact, anyone can even download a PDF copy of the entire book, store it on the local disk drive, and then refer to it time and time again, all at no charge.
I was able to download the entire book and then print the desired pages on my local printer. Each page has a watermark in the lower right corner that says, "Digitized by Google." This is genealogy books on demand! I can now search for a book online and then print it within a minute or so. That's better and cheaper than mail order!
Before you start downloading entire books, you should note that the downloaded version is not searchable.. You must conduct all text searches online.
Thousands of other genealogy books are also available from Google although the format may vary. The various books may appear in any one of three different views:
- Snippet View: Like a card catalog, the Snippet View shows information about the book plus a few snippets - a few sentences of your search term in context.
- Limited Preview: If the publisher or author has given permission, users can see a limited number of pages from the book.
- Full View: You can see books in the Full View either if the book is out of copyright or if the publisher or author has asked to make the book fully viewable. The Full View allows you to view any page from the book.
The Vital Records of Arlington, Massachusetts, to the Year 1850 is available as a Full View book. That is, you can read every page or even download and print it if you like.
Google also will conduct a search of bookstores to help you purchase a hardcopy. The searches are conducted on Abebooks, Alibris, Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Froogle. The last is a search engine capable of searching through thousands of online stores.
Finally, Google will also help you find the book in a nearby library. You can enter a ZIP code or other geographic information and Google will search through online card catalogs of all the libraries near you that it can access. In my case, Google told me that the book is available in a library that is nine miles from my home. Google even told me that the book is available in that library's main reference room under call number: GEN REF 929.3A724v.
I have also used Google Books to find a history book for the small towns where some of my ancestors lived, including a few references to my relatives. I also found a reference to the first landowner of the land where my house now stands. It stated, "Mr. Brigham ... erected a small cabin, in which he lived many years, remote from human habitation; till, at length, the fear for the Savages compelled him to retreat to a place of greater security; and, it is said, that only a few days after his removal, a party of Indians came to the place and burned his house to the ground."
The neighborhood seems to be a bit more peaceful in recent years.
The Information Age has made information available to us in quantities not imagined only a decade or two ago. Books and other information are available on almost any topic we desire. If only the genealogists of 50 or 75 years ago could have dreamed about the resources we have today!
Google Books is available free of charge to everyone. You may find the full text of a book you want or perhaps only a "Snippet View." In fact, you may not find anything at all. If so, I'd suggest that you check back in a few months as the scanning crews are still hard at work. They have millions of books yet to be scanned.
You can find Google Books at http://books.google.com.