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Searching Digital Books, Part 1

Imagine having access to books from academic libraries across the country: no library card needed, and as close as your computer keyboard. Several websites offer exactly this. Read on to find out what they offer and how to access them.

Internet Archive is the largest digital library out there to date. Their ambitious and lofty goal is “universal access to all knowledge.” While they may not have reached that goal yet, their site has lots of books and documents available, not to mention audio and video content. One section of Internet Archive is called “The Wayback Machine” and it preserves websites as they were years ago.

Here’s what Internet Archive’s home page looks like:

For best results in finding books, use the Search box in the upper left corner area, then choose “Texts” instead of “All Media Types” from the drop down menu. Good terms to search on are

  • geographic areas such as towns, states, or geographic regions. A search on my hometown of Muncie, Indiana brought up an 1893 city directory, a souvenir history of the city with pictures, a 1915 Normal College yearbook, and a book called The Family Register of Gerret Van Sweringen and descendants.
  • occupations. Searching on “harness makers,” my great-grandfather’s occupation, yields manuals and guides for the practitioner.
  • events. The search term “Chicago fire” results in many first-hand accounts of the Great Conflagration.

Audio offers a different way to explore the lives of our ancestors. Try searching on

  • a musician’s name. I heard a lovely cello concerto performed by Pablo Casals. Internet Archive also has a huge collection of Grateful Dead concerts, in case there are any fans out there.
  • an old-time radio program. You can listen to “Little Orphan Annie” along with your ancestors, complete with pops and crackles.
  • a politician. I heard Joseph McCarthy responding to the Edward R. Murrow.

And check out the video component. You can see footage of John F. Kennedy, the Hindenburg, or a short movie called “The Preparation of Teachers” which shows how teachers were educated in (you guessed it) Muncie, Indiana.

I’ll give you time to explore this fantastic resource before I tell you about other digital book sites. Have fun with Internet Archives and tell me what YOU find.

Categories: Genealogy

Tags: Genealogy

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