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Jan 21, 2021

How to Find Genealogy, Family History, and Local History Books in the Internet Archive

Would you like to electronically search through 164,634 genealogy books? You can do that on the Internet Archives’ online service at: https://archive.org/details/genealogy. Not only can you search these books, but you can do so electronically. A search for a name might require a few seconds, not hours or days in the manner of a manual search through printed books in a library.

The Internet Archive (also known as The Internet WayBack Machine Archive) is a San Francisco–based nonprofit digital library with the stated mission of “universal access to all knowledge.” It provides free public access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, software applications/games, music, movies/videos, moving images, and nearly three million public-domain books. This online library now has a collection that fills more than 15 petabytes.

NOTE: 15 petabytes is equal to 15 million gigabytes. Yes, that’s a lot of information!

The Internet Archive’s collection is growing daily. Best of all, the use of the Internet Archive is always FREE. There is only one class of available service: FREE. There is no upgraded, or “pro” version. The Internet Archive is funded solely by voluntary donations, so everything is free.

I have written often about the Internet Archive. It has always collected genealogy, family history, and local history books. However, searching through the huge collection used to require imaginative search terms to find specific references.

For instance, searching all of the Internet Archive for references to my last name of Eastman used to find a few genealogy books buried in a listing of hundreds of book related to photography. In addition, a search for family names often also produced listings of book authors who shared that name, even if the book had nothing to do with genealogy. A search for a family name that is also a common English word, such as Black or Street was almost hopeless. Luckily, a change made some time ago has now reduced the search problems.

The Internet Archive now has a dedicated section just for genealogy, family history, and local history books at https://archive.org/details/genealogy. You might want to go to that address first and then conduct a search there.

When writing this article, I went to https://archive.org/details/genealogy, found the box labeled “Search this Collection” and performed a search for: Eastman. That search found 10, 140 books. Unlike searches I have performed in the past, all the books were either (1.) books about Eastman genealogy or (2.) genealogy or local history books that had the name Eastman someplace within the book. In fact, quite a few of the books were local histories for towns where Eastman families had settled. One book was a history book written by Ralph M. Eastman although the book did not appear to contain any genealogy information. I also tried searching for geographic locations, such as “Penobscot County,” and had equally good success.

A few of the books listed in my searches were about U.S. Civil War histories. Those books had little or no genealogy information but contained great information about the soldiers and sailors who served during that war.

Many of the books were originally published in the 1800s; all of the ones I found were published prior to 1923.

The front covers of each book were displayed, and clicking on the image of any book cover immediately showed the contents of the book. Once I clicked on a book’s image, full source citations also were displayed for that book, including:

  • Author(s) name(s)
  • Publication date
  • Publisher’s name
  • Internet Archive call number
  • Number of pages within the book
  • The name of the person or organization who contributed the book
  • and even the name of the OCR software used to convert the book to text

The searches seem to work best for surnames of families that have been in North America for a century or longer. It does not work well for recent immigrants with eastern European or Oriental or Hispanic names. After all, these books are out of copyright; therefore, almost all were published prior to 1923. Don’t look for more recent immigrant families in this collection. Almost all the books listed are in English although a very small number may be in other languages.

The addition of a dedicated genealogy section on the Internet Archive is an incremental improvement but a very welcome one indeed. It greatly simplifies the searches for genealogy, family history, and local history books in this fabulous online resource.

I suggest you might want to go to https://archive.org/details/genealogy and search for any surnames of interest. You never know what you might find. You probably want to bookmark that address. Did I mention that the service is FREE?

Jan 21, 2021

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