Searching for Texts (online)

Finding obscure, out of print texts covering low interest topics is an essential part of conducting genealogy research. Many of the texts you may want or need are not necessarily easily obtained from major book sources, like Amazon.com, ebay or your neighborhood bookstore. Rather than allowing difficulty associated in finding these difficult texts form a permanent road block, I thought I’d share a bit of an example search.

I’ll point out in advance that our sample search will not be wholly successful; most are not. However, hopefully you’ll find the example informative.

As our example, we’ll use is a nearly out of copyright WW2-era text entitled: Lend-lease : weapon for victory by Edward R. Stettinius, Jr. This text was published in 1944 in Harmondsworth (wherever that is.. was..) after having been written in 1943.

To begin a search, I normally recommend going to Google first. In our example search, I entered:

  • Lend Lease Weapon Victory

Nothing very complicated there.  One of the first items we see when Google comes back from its journey is a link to the Internet Archive! The Internet Archive is an excellent source for public domain information (including on the internet itself). In our example, the search on Lend Lease Weapon for Victory produces a copy of a US brochure/ document from 1944. Although this document is interesting, it is not exactly what I was hoping to find.

So a little disappointed, I wander back to my Google search. On the same search list is a link to my desired text on OpenLibrary. If the text were out of copyright you would, more likely than not, be able to find a link to an electronic version of the text from this site. But instead, our search page offers no on-line links to our desired text. Sadness strikes again!  This is where we note that a 1944 publication is not yet 70 years out of copyright… no wonder we are unable to find a bunch of on-line copies!

Undaunted by reason or fear, we see a little link on the right entitled (Borrow Physical copy, local WorldCat) Clicking on the link leads us to a page about our textbook on the WorldCat site. From this page, we see that there is an option to “Enter your location” in order to find a copy of a text nearby! (Beware that sometime “nearby” can be a long way away! This is especially true for very rare texts.)

Hopefully, our little example provides a few helpful pointers. If you are still looking for other examples of places and options, you might try examining the following:

  • National Library of Australia provides an excellent source for on-line ordering.  You may order a copy of a desired text created and sent to you directly using Copies Direct (for this text you may see an example here! )
  • HathiTrust is a partnership of major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future. There are more than fifty partners in HathiTrust, and membership is open to institutions worldwide.
    • As for our text they offer a couple of online excerpts.  Please note because the obscure text example is not out of copyright until 2014, two years after the world ends. Consequently, this capability does not help very much in our example. Once our text is out of copyright this effort will return a much happier result.

So although not every text is available to read on-line, much information about texts and their place in history is generally easy to obtain. Additionally, if the text is out of copyright you might even get the volumes in their entirety for your on-line use.