August 11, 2006

Using Google Book Search for genealogy

Back in May I wrote about using Google Book Search to view scanned images of The Gentleman's Magazine, with its monthly birth, marriage, and death announcements and other valuable tidbits (mostly limited to wealthy families). More useful books and journals are continually being added to Google Book Search. I recently happened upon a marriage reference for my one-name study in The Visitation of London in the Year 1568, published in 1869 by the Harleian Society. I've found memorial inscriptions to several ancestors in British India in The Bengal Obituary, published by Thacker's in 1851. At least one volume of The Genealogist is available, including a mention of my ancestors' marriage in 1789. A university press edition of The Letters of Sarah Harriet Burney mentions several of my relatives by marriage. But finding these references isn't always straightforward. Here are some tips:

  • Searching for an unusual surname (e.g. Sercombe) or a small place (e.g. Chittlehampton) is easy. Just use the main search box.
  • If that gives many irrelevant results, try putting a full name in quotation marks (e.g. "William Orford") or searching for a surname and a place together (e.g. Hadfield Northwich).
  • If you get many irrelevant results about one particular topic, use a minus sign to exclude them (e.g. Bannerman -Campbell to find Bannermans other than the prime minister).
  • Some search results will only include bibliographic information or a small snippet of text, while others will show the entire book. If you only want full-text results, select the "Full view books" button under the search box.
  • If you find an interesting reference, but the full text isn't provided, try the links to "Buy this book" or "Find this book in a library". If the library link doesn't appear, copy the title and search for it at WorldCat.
  • If you have a particular book or type of book in mind, use the advanced search (a link to the right of the main search button). Specify words in the title or the name of the author or the publisher (e.g. Phillimore) and leave the rest blank. Then once you find your book, use the "Search in this book" feature or the book's own index or table of contents (if it has them).
  • Google tries to create blue hyperlinks in the images of indexes and tables of contents. Sometimes these link to the wrong page. If that happens, click your browser's "Back" button and type the correct page number into the "Page" box above the image.
  • The blue triangles next to the "Page" box display the previous page and next page. Often you can just click the mouse on a page image to go to the next page (but this doesn't always work).
  • In the advanced search, try specifying words in both the text and the title (e.g. Haworth in the text and Registers in the title).
  • Try different spellings. There are five results for Shercombe, but also one each for Shircombe and Shercome. Searching for the title "Visitation of" finds the Harleian Society volumes for London, Shropshire, and Worcestershire, but only the plural "Visitations of" finds the Surrey volume.

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