Apple has been in the news lately for their digital books and particularly for textbooks. More relevant to genealogists but with much less fanfare, FamilySearch announced that they now have more than 40,000 ebooks published online.
One of the best kept secrets in the genealogical world is the collection of books held by the Family History Library, the Allen County Public Library, the Clayton Center for Genealogical Research, the Mid-Continent Public Library, and the BYU Libraries. Many individuals are aware of the vast collection of records on Microfilm available at the Family History Library and family history centers worldwide, but the book collection is less well known. Contained within nearly a million volumes are many published family histories and county histories that contain well sourced research on many families. If you have not searched in these collections you may be searching for ancestors who have already been found. The most common way for experienced genealogists to share their work over the past hundred years was to publish a book of ancestral information to their families. Many of these volumes were also donated to one of the genealogical libraries listed above.
The challenge with using these book collections has been finding which book contained ancestral information about your ancestors. The Library catalog helped by trying to include family names, and it is a good resource. As good as it is, however, it cannot contain all the family names referenced in each family and county history.
The digital collections help solve this problem. The books are scanned and then converted into searchable text. This means that the entire 40,000 books currently in the online collection can be searched for any name that is contained in them. It is an incredible resource and is not known widely.
Only a fraction of the nearly 1,000,000 books in the collection of the participating Libraries have been digitized, but The Family History Library has been focusing on published family histories as a first priority. Once the books are digitized and made searchable they are published on FamilySearch.org. To search the collection go to FamilySearch.org and click on the link below the “Discover Your Family History” title labeled “Books” then click on the Family History Books link. This will take you to a search screen. I personally prefer the advanced search screen which allows a much more powerful, controlled search.
If you have never used this collection it is worth visiting. If you have searched it is worth another visit since over the past six months the number of books in the digital collection has nearly doubled.
The goals is to digitize the entire collection of books. When it is completed, in the coming years, this collection will form one of the best resources for finding ancestors. Even with only a fraction converted it remains a powerful resource for finding ancestors.