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

Monday, September 24, 2012

Books Online -- Genealogy and otherwise, Part One

In my top ten online websites, I discovered that most of the offerings were book sites. So, in thinking about the subject, I decided I would delve a little deeper into the subject and share so techniques for finding and using books online.

A few words of introduction are in order. When I was in high school (during prehistoric times, as my grandchildren would say), I had a research project on the U.S. Civil War (or War Between the States for you purists out there). I decided to research the battle of Chattanooga. This is really a series of battles in October and November of 1863. I couldn't find anything about the Civil War in my local high school library and so I trotted down to the Phoenix Public Library. This was happening in 1963, the 100th Anniversary of the battle. Guess what? There were no detailed books about the War in the Phoenix Public Library! No, really. I did know how to find stuff in the library. Even that early in my life, I would walk up and down the shelves and look at all the books, I didn't rely on the catalog, probably by instinct.

Today, finding information about the U.S. Civil was would be trivial. In fact, there would be so much information, you would probably have to confine your topic to one hour of the battle. But you have to remember, no computers, no Internet, and even Bruce Catton didn't write his famous trilogy about the War until 1965. Many of the books about the War were just being published and hadn't made their way into a small town library like Phoenix in the early 1960s.

The only place I found a detailed explanation of the battle was in the Encyclopedia Americana. So the point is? Some of us are still trapped back in the 1960s. We are still using the resources and methodology we learned in high school (if we learned anything).

Now, fast forward to today (wait while the tape winds). I am still doing research but only rarely do I physically go into a library. There is still a reason to do so, but being there is not nearly as necessary as it was years ago. But, there is another side to this story. The huge digitization (digitisation in England and elsewhere) vacuum is effective but not perfect. It hasn't sucked up everything yet. There are still treasures out there in the libraries waiting to be digitized. 

Basically, you have three choices in using books for research, genealogical or otherwise:
  1. Go to a library or other book repository and use their books to do research. This means sitting in a library day after day taking notes. Of course, if you are allowed, you can use a scanner or a camera to speed up the process.
  2. Spend huge amounts of money and buy all the books you need. Not much of an option, especially when every available space in your house either has boxes of documents or books.
  3. Try and find the books online, hopefully, for free.
Of these choices, number three is an obvious leader. But where do you go to find the books?Aha. That is the topic of this post.

But wait a minute. Why would I want to look in books anyway? Aren't books outmoded and outdated and etc. etc. Let's take a peek at the Mesa FamilySearch Library. Here are all the researchers gathered around their computer monitors ignoring the stacks and stacks of books that are sitting there right behind their unknowing backs. Let's be fair. Some of the researchers still recognize that the books are there, they just don't think of them very often.

What is in the books? Well, for genealogists, a lot of the stuff online started out in a book of some kind or another. Just one example, there is an index to the U.S. Census called the Soundex that is available in book format at the MFSL (Mesa FamilySearch Library).

Oh, dear, this post is getting long and I am running out of time. Check back for installment number two.

1 comment:

  1. There is a very important 4th option for accessing books for genealogy research:

    4. Find someone who is willing to look up the book in the archive or library.

    One of the larges libraries of genealogy books in the world is the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. My firm will look up records in those books and send you the records via email. No charge for first request. $10 for subsequent. Go to: