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

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Specialized Online Historical Search Engines and Portals -- Going beyond Google

Finding digitized sources on the Internet is both an art and a science. Even with extremely advanced search techniques, there is always more information that can be squeezed out of the online digital resources. Many genealogists fumble along using scatter gun approaches to searching and becoming discouraged when they cannot find exactly what they are looking for. Quoting from the Harvard Library, Library Research Guide for History,
Most of the search engines do not allow limitation to digitized manuscript/archival material, and so manuscript/archival material is often swamped by printed matter and open access scientific publications. Using appropriate search keywords (e.g., papers, correspondence, EAD) is useful. Image limitation is more frequent.
 It is likely impossible to provide an exhaustive list of all of the specialized search engines and portals that lead to genealogically relevant materials, but there are some notable examples that need to be part of every genealogist's repertoire. My objective here is to outline some of the more useful websites for searching for genealogically related material. There are likely hundreds of "search engines" but the items I am highlighting are more likely to produce pertinent results for genealogists.

The first and foremost of these tools is the vast online website called searches libraries and other similar institutions. It has over 2 billion catalog entries. It does not search all of the items word for word, but it does identify material that is usually obscured by general online searches. Some of the more helpful searches involve searching for histories of places, surname books, library collections of manuscripts, and other items that do not normally appear on general Google-type searches. For example, if I search for "tanner genealogy" on Google, I get 398,000 results and most of the initial results are articles I have written online. If I search on, I get 1,532 books and other publications on Tanner genealogy, with many specific books about my own ancestors and which include 605 articles I have personally written.

Searching with any online website, such as Google or, requires the user to become familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the individual search engine. There is no substitute for practice and experience. You become better at searching by doing thousands of searches. is the companion website to searches over 4 million records describing archived materials in over 1,000 different archives in the United States. helps researchers find primary source material as opposed ot books and other types of records. A search on for "tanner genealogy" brings up 240 collections of papers in various Special Collections Libraries across the United States. is the largest search engine for online academic material. Includes digitized books and journal articles, open access publications, manuscript/archival material, photographic images, audio and visual files, data sets, and theses. The databse contains records of digital resources from open-archive collections worldwide with more than 30 million records representing 1,500 contributors. Here is a description of the service from the website.
OAIster began at the University of Michigan in 2002 funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and with the purpose of establishing a retrieval service for publicly available digital library resources provided by the research library community. During its tenure at the University of Michigan, OAIster grew to become one of the largest aggregations of records pointing to open access collections in the world. 
In 2009, OCLC formed a partnership with the University of Michigan to provide continued access to open access collections aggregated in OAIster. Since OCLC began managing OAIster, it has grown to include over 30 million records contributed by over 1,500 organizations. OCLC is evolving OAIster to a model of self-service contribution for all open access digital repositories to ensure the long-term sustainability of this rich collection of open access materials.
The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is a fast growing portal with over 13,056,964 items from dozens of associated websites across the United States. Here is a description of the DPLA from its website.
The Digital Public Library of America brings together the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them freely available to the world. It strives to contain the full breadth of human expression, from the written word, to works of art and culture, to records of America’s heritage, to the efforts and data of science. DPLA aims to expand this crucial realm of openly available materials, and make those riches more easily discovered and more widely usable and used, through its three main elements.
The three main elements of the DPLA are:
  • A portal that delivers students, teachers, scholars, and the public to incredible resources, wherever they may be in America.
  • A platform that enables new and transformative uses of our digitized cultural heritage.
  • An advocate for a strong public option in the twenty-first century.
There are two huge international portals that dwarf most of the other online offerings. These are the National Library of Australia's Trove website and the website. 

I also suggest specialized websites such as with a searchable index and viewer for over 400,000 maps online. 

ACI Information Group is the world’s leading aggregator of editorially selected and curated social media and blog publications. 
With over 10,000 news and commentary blogs and more than one million scholarly blog posts in its indices, ACI is revolutionizing the way people conduct research by enabling them to find the content they’ve been missing. 
Professionals, researchers, scholars, and students use the highly authoritative insights and analysis provided through ACI’s editorially selected collection of social media publications to find information that is unavailable in traditional media and journals. Publishers choose to include their content in the ACI Index to reach new audiences and bolster real-time scholarly communications and post-publication discourse.
As is always the case, this list could go on and on. There is no practical end to the number of resources online and I have just mentioned those in English. 


  1. Eye opening. Thank you for writing this. Led me down a proverbial rabbit hole. Simultaneously exciting and horrifying. Horrifying in that there just isn't enough time to gather it all. Whatever "it" is.

    1. More than anyone can comprehend. Thanks for the comment.