Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Exploring the Books

For a while now, I have been watching the numbers of digitized books grow rapidly in the Books collection. As I write this post, there are 243,583 digitized books in the free online collection. I have seen this go up over 2,000 books in the last week or so. Here are the numbers according to the language of the books:

  1. English  (202,706)
  2. German  (18,509)
  3. Undetermined  (10,964)
  4. French  (6,061)
  5. Dutch  (2,546)

This huge collection does not have a very complex or sophisticated search function. Here is a screenshot of the "Advanced Search."

In this case, since the books are digitized, the search function is searching every word in every book. So if I do a search for my Great-grandfather, "Henry Martin Tanner" (including the quotation marks to search for just that term), I will find every book that has his name. Here is a screenshot of the search:

The program found six books containing information about my Great-grandfather. If I click on the first book, I get a downloaded copy of the entire book. You may have to wait a while, depending on the speed of your Internet connection. 

This book can now be saved off onto my own computer as a PDF file and then searched or read at my leisure (that is, of course, assuming that I have any leisure). Some books are restricted because of licensing or copyright considerations. These books show a notice that looks like this:

This means what it says, there are limitations on the availability of the book and it must be read in a library, either the Family History Library, a Family History Center or other participating library. By the way, some people have commented that this notice comes up frequently and they do not use the collection. That is their loss. Most of the books are freely and immediately available.

These books come from a long list of libraries. Here is the list.
In the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, as the books are digitized they are being removed from the open shelves to make way for other books that have not be available or to make room for other uses of the Library. 

You can also find the books through the FamilySearch Catalog. Here is a screenshot of the Catalog search:

I am searching again for my Great-grandfather in the title of a book. Here are the results:

You may want to search both in the catalog and in the Books section of the website since the Books search searches the contents of the books also.

It is a good idea to search for the names and all the variations of the names of all of those people you are searching for. 

The website indicates that the Family History Library has around 356,000 books although this number may be out-of-date. If this number is correct then it should not take too long for all the books to be digitized. All of the books are being digitized, not just those that are out-of-copyright. The copyrighted books can be "checked out" digitally for use in the Library, hence the restrictions. 

You may want to start searching the digital books collection regularly for additional entries. 


  1. Unfortunately only about 1 in 10 of the books I try to request are available to read at home. The hours our Family History Centers keep are erratic and even when supposed to be open they often aren't. It appears they have very few people willing to volunteer.

    My best bet is to use and see if I can get what I need to look at through Inter-Library Loan. Unfortunately the FHL often has the only available copy that worldcat knows about.

    1. Your experience is certainly different than mine. I always do a Google search for the items to see if they are available online somewhere else and often find other digital copies.

    2. It's very likely we are looking at entirely different places, even within the US. My husband's family has very deep roots in the south and goes back to the colonies in Virginia. A lot of the old genealogies of this area, even if they contain errors, are available on Google Books which is extremely useful. Others, however, are only at the FHL and although digitised, are not available except at a Family History Center. I can't go to the FHL at this point and may not be able to for some years to come.
      My own research focuses on Australia and England. England is doable remotely but Australia is a distinct problem.

  2. It is too bad that FamilySearch has elected to simply scan publications on-the-cheap, instead of adopting the old Harold B. Lee Library search/navigation tool -- even eliminating that terrific format for books from that library. One could view search "hits," navigate within volumes and download just what one wanted, instead of the really lengthy procedure to download an entire volume or set of volumes.