How the Internet Transformed Genealogy

Genealogist Lisa Louise Cooke explores how digitized documents have helped to uncover her family history

By Google Arts & Culture

I’ve been curious about my family history since the ripe old age of eight years old. I was the only kid in my grade school using her allowance to buy death certificates! My genealogical search began pre-internet, and it was a lot slower going back then. I wrote letters in hopes of gaining access to just a single document, and often waited weeks for a reply.

Show lessRead more

The internet was a huge boon to genealogy. Genealogists were early adopters of searchable databases, which unleashed this popular hobby, making it no longer an activity primarily saved for retirement. My family tree isn’t brimming with folks who sailed the Mayflower or invented the light bulb. The folks from whom I descend were hard-working and risk-taking folks who crossed the Atlantic in steerage, chiseled coal out of dark mines, plowed rented fields, founded churches, raised money for charity through rummage sales, and assimilated from many different backgrounds into American culture.

You wouldn’t expect the history of folks like mine to be found in books, and yet there it is in Google Books. City directories, farmer almanacs, county histories, magazines, and more over-flow with my family history and the histories of families across the country and around the world.

Article Clipping
Show lessRead more

On the heels of early success back in 2007, finding my own three times great grandfather and his family in the digitized pages of the History of Randolph County, Indiana by E. Tucker published in 1882, I started regularly encouraging my listeners (The Genealogy Gems Podcast) to search Google Books. I shared the strategies that have worked well for me such as incorporating search operators, using the Search Tools button to narrow my results down, and using the thumbnail button to quickly search pages for photos, maps and illustrations.

Over the years I’ve received countless success stories from my listeners. One woman wrote to say that her great-grandfather was a Civil War veteran. He married at the age of 48, and had one child, the listener’s grandmother. Just a few weeks after the child’s birth he committed suicide, likely suffering from a form of PTSD. Family stories revealed that her great-grandfather wrote articles under a pen name. Using clues from those stories and Google she discovered his pen name was Lock Melone. It turns out, he was a very well-known humorist. One of his stories appears in a publication alongside an article by Mark Twain. A search of Google Books revealed that many of his articles were published in a literary magazine called The Californian.

Wayne Township
Show lessRead more

She downloaded the fully digitized articles and used the information about the books that appeared in preview or snippet view to track down copies in universities around the country. As of today, she has found 69 of her great-grandfather’s articles! In her email to me she wrote, “They have made an ancestor who I thought had a rough life with a tragic end, a new person, full of life and laughter! I am sure his stories are based on events that occurred during his “real life” adventures. He lived life to the fullest, traveling a great deal, and saw the world through a light heart.” I’ve learned to never underestimate the lives of our ancestors, or Google Book’s ability to reveal them to us.

Explore more stories about books...

Credits: Story

Words by Lisa Louise Cooke

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps