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

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Finding Genealogically Relevant Ebooks Online?

Among the millions and millions of online ebooks, there are a sizable number of books and other publications that are both specifically and generally valuable aids to genealogical research. As I have mentioned in past posts, one of the things I find most disturbing about working in libraries with large genealogical book collections is that the patrons seldom know about, search, or even look at the books. I have been asked questions by patrons that could be answered immediately by walking over and taking a book off the shelf.

Now, the same thing is happening with online research. Books are almost uniformly ignored. The website is a good example of this problem. Of course, the website has millions upon millions (billions) of digitized records and all of those records are searchable in the Catalog. However, those records include, at the time of the writing of this post, 372,477 digitized books. Here is the issue: none of those books show up in the Historical Record Collections searches. The only way to access the information in the books is through a search directly in the "Books" section of the website. Granted, currently, there is a notice posted on the Books section that says that there will be a new interface and enhanced features in January 2019, but for years these books have been vastly underused. Interestingly, the books that are available are searchable word by word.

Let me give you all an example of how this works (or doesn't work).

I have a book about one of my family lines with the following citation:

Overson, Margaret Godfrey Jarvis. George Jarvis and Joseph George De Friez Genealogy. [Mesa?, Ariz.]: [M.G. Jarvis Overson], 1957.

Now, the first challenge is learning about the existence of such a book. This book has photos, stories, and genealogical information for thousands of individuals and families. Albeit, some of the information is not completely accurate or complete, but the book is a marvelous starting point for anyone investigating all these two families' ancestors and descendants. Now, how would I find this book if I did not already have a physical copy given to me by my father? I also have the copyright to this book and I had the book digitized and included in the Books Collection.

That is the real question about doing online genealogical research. But there is a larger question: how many more books are there that have information about these families? First off, I have to realize that such a book could exist. Next, I need to know how to go about using library catalogs to find books (I am going to use the term books to include all sorts of published material including serials and manuscripts). There are a lot of entry points on the internet to start such a search. Since I have already mentioned the website, let's do a search in the Books section.

What if you don't know how to use the catalog or other resources? Then you need to learn. The best available learning tool is The Family History Guide. Here is the section of that website that talks about searching for information in books on
If you are not familiar with library catalogs and have spent little or no time in a library, then you are definitely library challenged and need to remediate before proceeding further. I suggest going to your local public library or university library and start asking questions. In almost all cases, the library staff and reference librarians will gladly teach you what you need to know.

Now to If I go to the Books section, I will see that there is a search function.
It may be obvious, or not, but just search for a surname of a family you are interested in researching. I will search for Jarvis and this is what I get:

Hmm. I get 15,290 responses for books and records that mention or have information about the Jarvis family. Good Luck? Maybe. It depends on whether or not you know how to look for a more specific entry. I can't really explain that process, it is something you have to learn by doing thousands of searches. But I would first change my search to look for George Jarvis. Here are the new results.

Not much more help but there is one interesting entry the fourth one down on the search results.

I am already on the path to finding my own family information. How do I know this? Well, I am doing this research in conjunction with a lot of other research and I have previously identified some of the family names. Now I can use this information to be more specific:

Guess what? My book is the second one listed. Could I have found a copy of the book some other way? Obviously yes. I could have started my search using is the largest online catalog of books and other materials from thousands of libraries around the world. Here is my search in Since I now know the name of the book I can use the name of the book as a search term or at least include the surname of the author.

There are two entries for the same book. If I click on an entry, will show me a list of libraries that have copies of the book and may also show whether or not an ebook is available. I may have to click on each of the entries because the book was cataloged by more than one library.

Because I have entered my Zip code, I see a list of libraries organized by their proximity to me. I can also view all the editions and formats of the book.

Well, now I have more information than I can possibly handle at this point and I need to actually find the book and read it and incorporate the information into my own research. By the way, has a direct link to the ebook on the website. See if you can figure out how to find that link yourself.

There are probably hundreds of additional ways to begin your search for relevant genealogical books, but only one more example. What if I just start doing a Google search for the Jarvis book? Well, now I will find more than could be believed.

If you try this with some of your own family names you might or might not find information. But you will never know until you start looking.


  1. I figured out how to get from WorldCat, by direct link, to the ebook at FamilySearch. Very cool. This puts a new spin on things. Thank you.

  2. Hello James

    Many thanks for this.

    Have already found 2 interesting and helpful pamphlets, and this on a very quick start from my mobile phone.

    The Search facility is amazing and so very handy -- goes right into the detailed text, so homes in quickly onto the strangest of Irish townland names.


    Dave Mitchell
    Cape Town
    South Africa

  3. Another source of old genealogical writings is You need to be connected to a subscribing university to get full access, but many early issues of genealogical sources, such as "The William and Mary Quarterly" and "The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography" and "The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography" are available online. Many family histories were published by these and similar journals, often over many issues. Some were later published as books, but many articles are only found only in these journals and are available online. You can just query an individual's name and get hundreds of references; some part of family histories and some are from lists transcribed from court house, tax, church or military records.