Accessibility

Until very recently, the vast and rich world of genealogical publications was limited to those who could visit a library with a specialized collection, such as NEHGS. Most genealogies are, as one would expect, privately published by the author or client in limited numbers. Sometimes only a handful of copies were made and distributed to a few, select libraries, plus a small number of relatives, and that does not even begin to cover manuscript material of all those genealogies that never saw print, or collections of multiple family research by noted genealogists.[1]

The good news, of course, is that this is a case where the Internet has had a positive influence, with nearly every book in the world being digitized and made available online and exploding access to digitized manuscript material from every library and archive to boot.[2] That said, the number and type of on-line access sites is confusing, although alliances among such providers are beginning to help. Here are a few sources for digitized books:

Hathitrust.org: A consortium of educational institutions who have pooled digitized images of books. While downloading a whole book is restricted to members of participating institutions (check with your library or college), any individual can access books that are not under copyright restrictions and download a limited number of pages. The search engine includes full text searches as well as catalog searches. I usually go here first and then branch out if I cannot find something.

[This] is a case where the Internet has had a positive influence…

Archive.org: Another institutional collection, but this one does allow full, free downloads in multiple formats, including PDF. The search engine is only for authors and titles, but it does cross index to such sites as OpenLibrary.org. I usually download books that I use on a regular basis and I now have an e-library of several hundred works.

Openlibrary.org: Lending library of books still under copyright. Members can borrow one copy of a book at a time for two weeks. One is not, however, allowed to print from the borrowed book, although you can make screen prints. They also have free, downloadable e-books and are cross referenced to Archive.org.

AmericanAncestors.org: While the NEHGS website does not have downloadable books, it does cross reference to books available through HathiTrust, OpenLibrary.org, etc. Our growing digital manuscript collection is described here.

Ancestry.com: Under the header “Search” and sub-header “Card Catalog” you can access some rare genealogies that are not available on other sites. The full text of these books is indexed.

Familysearch.org: Under “Search” and “Catalog” you can access digitized versions of many of the books at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Worldcat.org: Where you can find a book in a library near you.

ArchiveGrid.org: Index to archival material in institutions around the world.

Okay, no more excuses that you can’t find something!

Next week we will pull this exercise together and review a few books to test out the process. I expect similar reviews may appear in the future as we have further discussions.

Notes

[1] When you are in the NEHGS library, I highly recommended looking at the Winifred Lovering Holman Papers (Mss 920), 37 boxes of research reports by the highly-regarded twentieth-century genealogist (and her mother), covering (usually) single lines of descent from 1,200 (mostly) New England immigrants, 1620–1650. Winifred’s papers were what taught me how to research and write genealogies. Unfortunately, these are not yet available online, but I’ve been dropping hints!

[2] A perk of NEHGS membership includes the ability to request photocopies from far away.

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia is the lead genealogist on the new NEHGS study project, Early New England Families, 1641-1700. Prior to joining the NEHGS staff, she compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant, the Alden Family Five Generations project, and the Harlow Family : Descendants of Sgt. William Harlow (1624/5-1691) of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University. In October 2016, Alicia was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists.

25 thoughts on “Accessibility

    1. Thanks so much for this update and summary of all these online resources, Alicia. And for me, the one I never knew about at NEHGS, is the the “Winifred Lovering Holman papers.” A very good question posed by Patricia Reed above is the question of indexing of all the family names/lines in these Holman archives. “…37 boxes of research papers…” YIKES! Or are the alphabetized?

      1. Aha! There they are in the catalog, just as you said! Thanks, Alicia. Of course, at the time I posted my question the website was temporarily down, and I’ve never been the most patient of people …

      2. I searched that and got a sample of the main names she documented. Did the author research a particular area in New England, or does she focus on specific family lines that branched out?

        1. Luana, Winifred was a professional genealogist who researched many families throughout New England. Much of her collection consists of reports for her clients, so it covers many areas.

  1. I am so happy you have mentioned the Lovering-Holman works! They are a gold mine of direct information or at least leads to further investigation for New England immigrants of the early 17thC. Everyone should investigate those works if they are researching their New England ancestors of that period. Thanks again for another fruitful suggestion.

  2. I have used “archive.org” with good results. One of the things I like about it is that I can search for a particular character string, like the surname “Gill” and then it will find all occurrences of that string in the text of the book so you can browse the book and see if it’s worth downloading or not. And I always type in the URL for that particular book in the footnotes and bibliography, “Author, Book Name, Page. . . from http://www.archive.org . . blah blah blah.” so that anyone reading my pathetic prose can instantly know where I got the information and how they can get it.

  3. I hope my Ward ancestors are reading this! It’s time to get those old genealogies out and put them somewhere that I can find them! Daniel! Do you hear me!

  4. Alicia, thank you for your post on this important and interesting topic. I would just like to add that the NEHGS Digital Collections site, to which you have kindly provided a link, does have books in addition to manuscripts. It includes city directories, family histories, and local history works. Many thanks also for mentioning the book links in our library catalog!

  5. Fortunately, I inherited from my grandfather a number of Family Genealogies published in the 19th century or early 20th century. A valuable part of them is handwritten notes correcting the printed material or, better yet, notes on the blank end pages about family stories that did not appear elsewhere, such as adoptions, name changes, and encounters with the law.

  6. One valuable archive I’ve found is the Parkhurst Manuscripts, which is broad primary research in the vicinity of New London, Connecticut. It comprises 36 volumes, which are not yet available online, but can only be accessed digitally at Family History Libraries.

    https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/oclc/866510063?availability=Family%20History%20Library

    Though a lot of different families are documented, I was lucky enough to find one entire volume of this work dedicated to a main ancestral family of mine. It’s a challenge because it’s handwritten. My sister is currently transcribing this volume, and we plan to offer the transcription back to Family Search.

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