San Mateo County Genealogical Society's Blog featuring society events, projects, meeting notes and other items of relevance to genealogists.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Digging for Roots Online

By Dennis L. Maness, MLS
Call me old-fashioned but I love books! But I also love computers and what they can do, especially on the Internet. And, as I’m sure all of you do, I love genealogy. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could combine all three of these loves? Well, that’s what this post is about—genealogy books on the Internet!

There are books all over the Internet (a Google search for “~genealogy books online” gave me 3,800,000 results!) but for our purposes we’ll discuss the Big Three--Google Books, FamilySearch, and The Internet Archive.

Google Books
Go to  click on “More” and then click on “Books”.

There is a YouTube video (of course!) on what Google Books is and a bit on how to use it at

Quick Search Tip—On Google the use of the tilde “~” (it’s on the top of the upper left key on my keyboard) means that the search will include synonyms of the word you’re searching for. For instance “~genealogy” will include the words “family history”, “family tree” “vital records” “genealogical” “surname” and probably many more in your search.

But I digress:
What kind of genealogical books can you find on Google Search?

There are vital records--

and individual genealogies,

family genealogies--

classic genealogical studies--

county histories--

historical works that may give you more insight into your ancestor’s lives—


And even genealogy themed novels!


FamilySearch Books

The last time I was at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City I went to look for a family history book on one of my family lines. When I got to the place where it should have been I found rows and rows of shelves that were empty! When I asked the staff what was going on they said that the books had been taken to be digitized, so that is why this site is so important for online users. I may be wrong but I think they said that the books would not be coming back for public display but would be kept in some underground or offsite storage.

Here’s how to read them: 
Go to click on “Books” (near the top), then click on the “Family History Books” link.

Below the search form there is a good description of this site:

Family History Books is a collection of more than 40,000 digitized genealogy and family history publications from the archives of some of the most important family history libraries in the world. The collection includes family histories, county and local histories, genealogy magazines and how-to books, gazetteers, and medieval histories and pedigrees. The valuable resources included in Family History Books come from the following partner institutions:
§ Allen County Public Library
§  Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library 
§  Brigham Young University Hawaii Joseph F. Smith Library
§  Church History Library 
§  Family History Library  
§  Houston Public Library - Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research
§  Mid-Continent Public Library - Midwest Genealogy Center 

There’s not much more that needs to be said about this wonderful jewel of genealogy knowledge. There is, however, one warning you need to know—when you do a search for a title or subject the site will download the entire book as a PDF file before you can begin to read it. This is sometimes a lengthy process with large books. But worth it.


The Internet Archive

Go to, and click on the word “Texts” at the top.

You can search for pretty much the same kinds of books as I listed in the Google Books description.
In addition they have the [non-indexed] entire run of the U. S. Census. But again a warning—the interface is really ugly and often confusing but worth it when you find something that isn’t anywhere else on the Internet.


There are many other sites that offer books. You might consider using Heritage Quest and at your local library if you don’t have a subscription.

Sidenote: Here are two descriptions of the difference between the home subscription of and the Library Edition:

Check out Cyndi’s list at

Dick Eastman discusses an interesting new web site called “Genealogy Book Links” in his July 12, 1012 blog post at

And finally there is a useful web site called “Your Personal Genealogy Library: Family History Books Online” at

Remember, as Legacy Family Tree’s Geoff Rasmussen says,

“Life is short; do genealogy first!”