I love books! I always have. I think I inherited this trait from my Dad. When I think of Dad one of the images that comes up is him, hand on his forehead, leaning over a book in deep concentration. One of my favorite shows on TV used to be Reading Rainbow, a show that featured children introducing books. I am pleasantly surprised that it still exists after 30 years (I am aging myself here…). Since this is a blog about family research, I want to share some book resources I have found and how they have helped me in connection with my search for family.
One of the members in a genealogy-related Facebook group I belong to regularly supplies us with links to free ebooks on amazon.com. I am not sure if she has a Google alert set up to notify her, or if Amazon offers alerts, but here is an example of a ‘purchase’ entitled Civil War Photography: African Americans. You can buy ebooks as well, of course. I prefer an actual book over an ebook, so I like the free version. I view them with the free Kindle for Mac or Iphone apps, since I do not own an actual ebook reader.
So far, most of the books I have been interested in are still copyrighted, so you can’t just download them from Google Books. If they weren’t, you could. Nonetheless, this is a great resource where I have found some interesting leads, entries of books to consider buying, or information about people I am researching. For example, the last enslaver of my great-great-great-grandfather Edmund Overstreet, named P.S. Fitch, patented a ‘hemp brake’. This made me wonder whether hemp was a crop my ancestors tended to. I will need to do more reading on this, since I thought tobacco was more prominent in the area. I also found an entry for Fitch’s daughter in a directory for the Daughters of the American Revolution on Google Books. I will be using her submission, which I found on ancestry.com, to further research the Fitch family and hopefully find more on my Overstreet line.
Books from the library are great since they are free to use and you can try them out before purchasing. One of my favorite books is Finding a Place Called Home: A Guide to African-American Genealogy and Historical Identity by Dee Parmer Woodtor. I first found this book at the military library on post, in Germany. I was so impressed by the way Mrs. Woodtor was able to explain the research process in a comprehensive way and tie in historical aspects, I decided to buy it. This book gave me the incentive to research my paternal side, since it shows you how to overcome the obstacles one faces when researching African American families.
Which brings me to Used Book Vendors. There are so many books in very good condition that are available through online stores or local book stores. I purchased Finding a Place Called Home for $20 a few years ago. Well worth it! I have also purchased biographies about my German great-uncle who was a Cardinal in the Catholic Church. This book is from the early 1900s and cost me 30 Euro!
If you want to avoid storage issues, Family Search and state historical societies -amongst others- offer books as downloadable PDF files or online. I downloaded Jessamine County and Woodford County histories from Family Search. I found the abolitionist John G. Fee‘s autobiography as an electronic edition, which you can scroll through page by page, but can’t download. The book was on the website Documenting the American South, sponsored by the University Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Now we know how to hoard these treasures in their physical or electronic form, but how do we organize them? I was reminded of this recently in a Facebook group on…organization! I have Books2, a free book cataloging app for my Mac that lets me scan the ISBN of a book using my built-in camera. It then tries to pull the info, such as cover image, publication dates etc. from the internet. If the app can’t find anything, you can enter the information manually. I have only done a fraction of my books, but it is a start and might keep me from buying duplicates. If you would rather catalog books online and make book lists to share, then you can try Library Thing or Good Reads (there are most certainly more…). I can only do so much social media, since the day only has 24 hours and I have 3 kids, so I will stick to my Mac app.
So this is my argument for utilizing books, in whatever fashion. They can help us visualize a time period, learn some social history or tweak our research skills and so much more. Despite the urge for instant gratification from Google & co. and my short attention span, I am making a conscious effort to grab books more often and read them from front to back or back to front!