Google Books: a great genealogy & family history resource

Google Books logoI thought I’d throw Google Books a little kudos today – not that this online publishing giant needs it.

Google Books has been a solid genealogy research tool for me. I found the meat to put on the bones of the Rachel Findley saga through it. Through Google Books, I discovered that my great grandfather Daniel Henry Sheffey was a Civil War hero when he helped to defend the town of Wytheville, VA. I found out, much to my amazement, that I had a connection with the slave rebel Nat Turner through one of his daughters. I could read about the careers of various Sheffey and Roane US Congressmen and Virginia State Representatives – and see how they voted on issues and read transcripts of their actual speeches. It allowed me access to the full court papers, including affidavits and witness depositions, for the infamous early 19th Century Virginia Newman Brockenbrough Roane – Evelina Gregory divorce case.    I also found some really quite interesting information about my ancient English Roane ancestors…and a myriad of other titbits about ancestors in my maternal and paternal lineages.

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Google Books levels the historical playing field. It’s as simple as that. People who otherwise wouldn’t have even achieved a footnote in history can be found within this service. The stories of small-town America and its people figures side by side with the towering colossi of history can be found there. That’s a pretty cool thing in my estimation. The provision of this information has to do with the efforts of local historians/antiquarians as well as self-published or vanity published family history books penned by that oh-so-stereotypical amateur historian: the gentleman historian of a certain age who had the time, finances and inclination to delve into their family’s history…or indulge their interest in a particular historical subject from the confines of their libraries or studies (ok, yes, this is the image I have of them!). While their wives lunched, they researched and wrote.

No, not everything they confined to paper was entirely accurate. And for that, tradition academic historians have disparaged these authors and their works. So yes, what you come across in these self-published or vanity-published tomes will need to be corroborated and verified by other established sources. All the same, these men (and more than a few women) have written about people, places and events which have traditionally been overlooked by the historical, academic and research establishment.

I, for one, thank the cosmos that they did. Through their words, I’ve been able to construct entire branches in my family trees which I couldn’t have done through any other means. They’ve thrown up names I hadn’t (and still haven’t) found in the official records but have verified through popular cemetery records sites. The tales they tell have transformed some of my ancestors – like Daniel Henry Sheffey – from mere names and dry data into real people who lived and breathed and, well, did things.

The absolute bonus is you can typically read entire pages from the books provided by the service for free. Yes, it’s true, Google Books is pretty generous in its use of free book previews.

So have a gander. Type in a family surname, like I did in the image below, and see what comes up for members in your extended family.

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