Basically, you have three choices in using books for research, genealogical or otherwise:
- 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.
- 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.
- Try and find the books online, hopefully, for free.
4. Employ someone (for pay or otherwise) to look up a book in a library and copy out the pertinent sections.My prediction is that libraries participating in Inter-library loan, will finally get tired of shipping books all over the country and start digitizing the books and making digital copies available to be checked out online. As books continue to be digitized, some of the options will become less and less of an issue.
5. Use Inter-library loan to have a book sent to you from a remote location.
There are enough books digitized online now, that the options involving physically obtaining the books ought to be secondary to first making a thorough search online.
All of the books online (read digitized books online) are divided into two major categories: those that are out of copyright protection and those still protected by copyright. There are books that would normally be protected by copyright, where the author or publisher has released the book into the public domain, but they are few and far between. Although both copyrighted books and those out of copyright are being digitized, it is usually only those out of copyright that will show up for free in the online collections. Otherwise, with copyrighted material, it may be that the only way to obtain a copy is to use the library or pay for the book. Many books are being published today both in paper and digital editions with an every increasing number of books being published only in digital or eBook editions.
Fortunately, as genealogists, we are not so interested (as genealogists not as regular book readers) in best sellers and such and we are therefore going to find a huge number of digitized materials online that are directly related to genealogical research. Unlike looking for a source record about an individual, books are not necessarily going to be located geographically close to place of an event in the ancestor's life. Books are highly mobile and a physical copy of any given book could literally be anywhere on earth. So, to find a book online, you may have to search a number of catalogs of various libraries and other sources to find the book.
So where would I look first? That's easy. Google Books. Google has scanned millions of books and a search in Google Books for the term "genealogy" will give millions of results. You will immediately learn that there are three categories of books on Google, dependent primarily on availability and copyright restrictions. The three categories are Preview, Snippit and Read.
Preview books are just that a previews of the book, just enough to get your interest in buying the book and nothing more. These are books that are currently for sale and under copyright protection.
Snippit view books may not be readily available for purchase, but they are still mostly covered by copyright law. Google give a little bit more information, but the contents of the book are still limited.
If a book falls in the Read category, that means the book has not only been digitized, it is also available to be read or downloaded from the Internet.
In each case, Google gives you the option of finding the book in a library. To do this, Google has an agreement with WorldCat.org, the largest online catalog with over a billion and half entries. You are missing your research life if you are not using WorldCat.org. You may have noticed that I listed it as one of the ten most valuable programs I use regularly. In order to avoid a listing in WorldCat.org, a book would have to be of such limited production that it did not find its way into a library.
Fortunately, there are not many books overall that don't find their way into WorldCat.org. Unfortunately, some of those books are very limited run family history related books. Fortunately, there are other digital book collections online that are extensive and merit a separate search.
So let me show you how I would find a book. I will use an example, surname book written by my Great-grandmother Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson. One of the first problems is knowing that such a book exists at all. Especially for books written many years ago, the descendents of the named ancestor or those with the surname, may not have any knowledge of the book written about their family. So, you must assume that such a book exists for any of the families in your ancestral lines until you determine otherwise. The catch here is that with all the books being digitized each year, the search for books is never over.
So digging right in, I search for my Great-grandmother in Google books, simply making the assumption that a book exists. A Google Book search, using her name as the search term, brings up her book with a search on her name. It you do not know if a book exists, then the search may or may not bring results, but the exercise is valuable for every ancestor.
Upon searching in Google books I found the entry for my Great-grandmother's book. To look further, I clicked on the Google Books' link to "Find in a Library." This takes me directly to WorldCat.org and lists the places where the book could be found in a library. Incidentally, it also gives me a number of choices for a standard citation for the book. Here is the citation:
Overson, Margaret Godfrey Jarvis. George Jarvis and Joseph George De Friez Genealogy. Mesa?, Ariz: M.G. Jarvis Overson, 1957.
There do not appear to any digitized copies of the book online, likely because the book is still under copyright protection. But just in case, I also check a couple of other places.
First, I look in the Family History Library Catalog on FamilySearch.org. Many of the Family History Library's holdings are being digitized and the catalog does not appear in WorldCat.org. So I look there and find the book but no digitized copy.
I could keep looking, but that will have to be the subject of another post.