Friday, January 2, 2009

Searching Digitized Books

Searching published genealogies is a good way to find out what research has already been done on your family line. Published county and town histories often include biographical information about early settlers, prominent families and community leaders. But how do you know if your ancestor was mentioned in a book? How would you go about finding out what books had information about your family's county or society?

County histories and published genealogies were generally printed in small quantities, so finding a copy available today could be challenging.
If you were fortunate enough to find a book about your family or your family's county, it was fairly tedious to search for information about one particular individual: many such books did not include an every-name index.

When books are digitized, not only are they more accessible, searching them also becomes far easier and more effective. Then when you do find something, you can print a copy for your records, or save the image to your computer. Research has never been more convenient, effective, and inexpensive. (It’s hard to beat FREE!) now includes a digital collection of more than 25,000 family, society, county and town histories. Some of these histories are one-of-a-kind typescripts that were once only available on microfilm. Google Book Search is a digital collection that includes thousands of college alumni publications, legal reviews, county histories, and more. Some books with no preview available on Google Book Search are available fully digitized on

To see a state-by-state, county-by-county listing of what published histories are available, check out P. William Filby’s A Bibliography of American County Histories. In the "view inside this book" Google Book search box, type the county and state where your ancestor lived. Filby's Bibliography "opens" to the page listing publications available for that county.

Armed with that information, open a new browser window and check to see if the book is available at either Google Book Search or The search mechanisms and collections differ, so your search strategies will be different depending on which site you're searching.

  • With Google Book Search, enter your ancestor's name and the county and state as a single search criteria, for example "Lorenzo Bird Atchison Kansas" (without the quotes).

  • At, click on [Search Records], then [Historical Books]. Enter the county and state in the Title field. If you find a book that you're interested in searching, click to select it, then enter your ancestor's name within the "Search this object" box.
Good luck, and happy hunting!

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