Using HathiTrust for Free Genealogy Research
Thank you to family history writer Tony Bandy for this helpful article.
What if I could show you a free online family history resource with over 13 million digitized books, magazines and other types of materials? Would you be interested? What about a continually growing service with free access and downloads to high-resolution scans, PDF documents and plain text? How much would this benefit your family research?
Interested? Then let me share with you a bit more information about the project known as HathiTrust. This one-stop library archive can quite possibly help you find ancestors and break through your long-term genealogical brick walls. Let’s take a closer look!
The project brings together multiple libraries, both public and academic, and their respective digital holdings into a single online collection. From universities such as the Ohio State University, Harvard and others, you can also find the New York Public Library, the California Digital Library and others.
Freely available for use and research, the focus of this massive treasure trove is multiplexed, seeded with digital books, magazines and other scanned items, but also sound recordings, maps and other ephemera. With multiple methods of search, PDF, image and plain-text downloads, there’s a lot to consider for the genealogy researcher. A few examples of some specific titles I’ve encountered for my own research include:
- Resident and business directory of Carver, Plympton, Halifax, Pembroke and Hanson, Massachusetts, 1910.
- Rand, McNally & Co.’s Chicago city railway directory and street number guide.
- Album of genealogy and biography, Cook County, Illinois.
- The Genealogical quarterly magazine: devoted to genealogy, history, heraldry, revolutionary and colonial records.
In all, the wide variety of types, time periods, and collections will prove fruitful for most family researchers!
Searching the Site
One of the hallmarks of any digital resource is search. If you can’t search it, you can’t find it. However, with HathiTrust, there is a veritable cornucopia of methods to consider, including:
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Given the size and vast scope of the collection, full-text searching can return thousands of results, even more if you’re searching for surnames or common historical themes or locations. Index searches are the best way to search for broad themes or specific time periods of history. If you retrieve too many results, then use the material type, time period, or author to winnow down your results to a manageable stack.
Viewing Your Results
Once you’ve found a specific title or resource, then you’ll find many ways to use the information. This includes “flipbook,“ individual pages, thumbnail views (great for illustrated documents) and more. You can also export individual pages in PDF, image format or plain-text.
HathiTrust is an amazing resource and with this introduction, I’ve had the opportunity to show you a few of the basics. However, there’s much more to consider. Try the following links go in depth and help you with your research:
Researching our family’s history is always exciting. From tales and stories to facts, births, and marriages, it’s a tapestry that’s continually growing and changing. If you’re looking for that long-lost fact or just wanting to know more about the history and culture in which your ancestors lived, HathiTrust is a great place to start!
Image: “U.S. soldiers getting library books from truck, Kelly Field Library.” bet 1909 and 1920. Library of Congress
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