Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Digging into books -- genealogy online and digitized

One of the first things I usually tell patrons as they begin a tour of the Mesa Regional Family History Center is to check to see if someone has written a surname book about one of your ancestors. That is always a good thing to do in Mesa, especially for people whose ancestors settled in the area. But now that same suggestion can be made to anyone. Why not check and see if one or more of your surname ancestors has a digitized book online?

I would look first at the Books link to the Brigham Young University Family History Archive. The link is on the main startup page for The number of books in the digitized collection is a complete mystery since the counter has been non-functional since last year some time. In addition to surname books, the collection also has:
  • Histories of families
  • County and local histories
  • How-to books on genealogy
  • Genealogy magazines
  • Periodicals (including some international)
  • Medieval books (including histories and pedigrees)
  • Gazetteers
I searched on my Tanner surname and had 20 results, some of which are surname books I am familiar with. But my search doesn't count, I have searched many times and am pretty familiar with what is available online. But if you haven't searched, you might be surprised.

The second place to search is Books. Try putting in the surnames and the word genealogy or family or history. A search for Tanner genealogy returned 10,200 results, including many public domain books that were available to read or download. It might take you a while to exhaust this vast collection.  If the books are not online in a readable format, you can add them to your Google Books account and purchase a digital copy.

Next try  I didn't find very many under a search for Tanner genealogy, but I found quite a few with a search for Tanner. If you strike out with, try searching in and look for online editions of the books you find.

When you get through with those searches, you might just try a search for related topics. I searched for "tanner genealogy books online digitized" and got some interesting results. You might even run across my recent post on reading genealogy books online - a survey of sources.

Now, you might worry that some of these "sources" might, in fact, be drivel. That is entirely possible. But, I would suggest that you at least become familiar with what some of your relatives may have done before. Many of the older books are ascendancy books and the information about the progenitors may be suspect but a lot of the information may have been gathered first hand by the author. Once in a while, you hit a gold mine of information tied to contemporary sources.  Good luck in your searching. 


  1. Great post, James. I get frustrated with the familysearch book searching, it just seems kind of user-unfriendly to me. For that matter, I'm not that fond of many changes recently made to Google Books. I would have to mention my genealogy books index at, where I have tried to simplify finding some of the books of interest at Google, due to their lack of effective subject search.

  2. James, are the books at the same/mirrored on That's a site where I've found some interesting books that have been digitized.,, and the like are great places to look for a book if you do find one that's been digitized, but it only allows snippet views.