After my recent post about buying a printed copy of a Google Book, several people had questions about digital books and how to use them. So I thought I would review what I do with digital books. I am an avid book collector and digital books are no exception. I would recommend to anyone that if they find books online related to their family history, they try to save them to their own computer.
The books I am talking about no longer have a copyright, which often means they were published before 1923. What you can do with the books varies from site to site, so let’s go through my favorite sources of digital books one by one.
Internet Archive is my favorite site for finding books, because the pdf’s from there are usually OCR-searchable, meaning, once I open the pdf, I can use a search command to find a name or word in the text of the book (not a perfect search; it depends on the quality of the image and the type).
Recently, Internet archive has changed their screens. I find the new interface a little confusing.
I went to http://archive.org and chose “Advanced Search.” I usually use the “Description” field and enter a few words or an exact term (in quotations). In this case I entered simply Westerly Rhode Island. Three results came up, however, if a lot of results came up, I could have limited the results further by clicking “texts” over on the side column, thereby getting rid of recordings, films, etc. One of the results was a manuscript from a Newport Library of a “Diary of Samuel Ward.” I’ve never seen this before, but how nice to be able to look it over at home. Yes, please.
I clicked on the image, and on the screen that came up, I could page through the document just by clicking on it. For a printed book, the gray edge beside the pages allows you to easy click forward or backward in the book. Of course I could also download it in several formats. Downloading as a pdf is what most people would want to do.
Clicking PDF brings up an option to save it to my computer. I file it properly – my folders are divided into places and family names – I choose the folder that best fits the material.
I tend to arrive at Google books through a general google search, but it can be accessed directly at books.google.com.
I searched for Spaulding genealogy and clicked on the book The History of Hillsborough New Hampshire Vol 2: Biography and Genealogy. Since Spaulding genealogy was my search term, instances of those words are bookmarked with tiny blue bands over on the side – clicking those, or clicking “previous” or “next” will let me jump from appearance to appearance.
Pulling up the History of Hillsborough, I notice there is an EBOOK-FREE button in red. That means a free version is available for download. Hovering over the EBOOK-FREE shows me the download pdf:
… clicking on the PDF will start a download. Then I would save the pdf to the folder where I want to keep it.
HathiTrust Digital Library
HathiTrust.org has the most user-friendly search function. However, in the end, full books can only be downloaded by those with a login for one of Hathitrust’s partner universities.
I searched the phrase “Marcy Ballou” in full text search.
The results were very interesting.
(1) Pulling up the “History of Woonsocket” I used the Search in this text box, and saw that Marcy appears on page 223:
Notably, Marcy does not appear in the index to this book. Looking at page 223, I can tell that the mention is for Marcy’s cousin, the other Marcy Ballou. But still, I’d never seen it before.
(2) Next, I looked at a Limited (search-only) entry.
I own those copies of the Rhode Island Genealogical Register, but hadn’t noticed Marcy Ballou’s name in there before. Turned out they both referred to other Marcy Ballous. But in this case, HathiTrust served as a useful index.
(3) Looking at The Ballous in America, I tried to search within the book. I searched for a variant – “Mercy Ballou”. Unfortunately, on the copy that came up, searching was not possible. I pulled up an alternate copy on HathiTrust and searching was possible (oddly, both versions were apparently from Google Books).
Once a page is found with information, the PAGE itself can be downloaded even without an account. But the whole book cannot be downloaded, even though this book, from 1888, is not under copyright. Note that the bottom corner also offers options for creating a link to a specific page or to the whole book.
One of the nicest features of FamilySearch.org is the BOOKS section, somewhat buried under the “Search” menu.
Searching on this page will show results from any of the libraries listed on the screen. I searched for Lanphere genealogy.
Clicking on one of the results will either bring up a message saying you can’t access it outside of the Family History Center OR if the book is available as a pdf it will start to download right away. However, it’s not really showing you the exact spot where the match is. You will have to find that on your own. But FamilySearch books is my go-to when all else fails. Even if it brings up a book I can’t view, at least I have a clue and I can try to see the book elsewhere, perhaps in person. If I were trying to find a specific book I would check out worldcat.org to locate a paper copy in a library.
How to use and maintain your PDF book collection
I used to keep all books in their own set of folders on my computer. Now, each family name or place folder has a “books” folder within it.
The most important thing to me when I use a pdf book is to save my own notes. At the very least, I leave comments to mark each page where topics of interest appear in the book.
Opening up a book in Adobe Reader looks like this:
To “highlight” text in yellow, or to leave a note, I click “Comment” in the top corner to access the Sticky Note and Highlight Text functions. The open screen looks like this, with all my highlighted text and sticky notes showing in a clickable column down the side. This way, the next time I open the book, I can go right to the places I want. You can see I have done this about a dozen times in the Emery book.
When you are ready to close the pdf, you must save it to keep your notes. Sometimes, my computer insists that I rename it to save it. I do that, then delete the older version to avoid confusion.
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