Imagine a free virtual online library of rare historic books from all over the world to help you discover rich, unknown details about the lives of your ancestors. What if the historic book collections held by significant public libraries and venerable societies were the sources of these contributed books? You’d have a dynamic, priceless online repository of some of the greatest hidden historic treasures predominantly unknown to man. International, and a growing host of partnering libraries and organizations and volunteers, have announced today that they’ve reached the milestone of publishing 200,000 historic volumes online for free at books.FamilySearch.org. The growing online collection, which began in 2007, is invaluable to genealogists and family historians in finding their ancestors.
FamilySearch has mobile digitization pods at partnering libraries and organizations across the United States including Fort Wayne (Indiana), Syracuse (New York), Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), Independence (Missouri), Houston (Texas), at the University of Florida, and in Salt Lake City (Utah). Digitization is also being done at strategic FamilySearch Centers in Pocatello (Idaho), Mesa (Arizona), Oakland, Orange and Sacramento (California), and in Utah at the West Valley and Ogden Centers. . Most of the digitized publications consists of compiled family histories and local and county histories. The collection also includes telephone and postal directories and other resources.
A major player in this vast project is the Allen County (Indiana) Public Library. Allen County’s genealogical library is the second largest genealogical library in the world containing one million physical items and 2.5 million searchable items in their free online databases. FamilySearch has three sets of volunteers filming at the Library’s Genealogy Center. Over the five year project some 14,000 volumes have been filmed and digitized (translating to an estimated two million pages). Allen County has an estimated 12,000 more volumes that are immediately available for digitization—perhaps another five years of work.
Curt Witcher, Allen County Library’s Genealogy Center Manager, credits FamilySearch. “They’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting” in getting the project to this point. “Think of the collection that every library in the world now has accessible through this project. And there is no loss, no theft, no mutilation of materials.”
Houston Public Library (HPL) is regularly ranked among the top ten genealogical libraries. It joined the initiative in 2008. Sporting an extensive Gulf Coast family history and genealogical collection, as well as an extensive international collection, HPL’s Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research and the Houston Metropolitan Research Center has contributed, so far, nearly 8,700 volumes to the FamilySearch project. Sue Kaufman, Manager of the Clayton Center, is quick to say what a pleasure it is to watch library-goers expand their research by being able to simply entering name, date and place data to quickly search personal histories and stories from the digitized collection online.
The project has made books available to anyone with an Internet connection. And even though the historic books are becoming available online, foot traffic has not decreased while the use of the family history content its online delivery has increased.
Like most of the digitization pods for this initiative, the digitization work at the Clayton Center is performed by full-time FamilySearch volunteers, although some locations are supported by local volunteers. Kaufman says, “I am humbled and honored to be part of this project. It is amazing what the FamilySearch volunteers do, closing their homes for 12 or 18 months to work 40 hours a week in a space that must seem the size of a closet. It is selfless. We couldn’t have done it ourselves.”
At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP), a unique, special collections library in the heart of Philadelphia, digitization efforts have been equally successful. According to Page Talbott, HSP President and CEO, they are planning to digitize 3,100 volumes of the Historical Society’s 12,000 volume family history collection. To-date over 110,000 pages (about 800 volumes) have been completed. Talbot characterizes the digitization initiative with FamilySearch as “fabulous” and sees vast potential for future projects.
HSP was established in 1824 and has 21 million manuscripts and 600,000 bound volumes. In addition to the family history collection, it holds collections of vital records, directories, business histories, and prison records. HSP collects histories of all states from the east coast to the Mississippi River, including ethnic and immigrant histories, and has collected historical newspapers in 57 languages.
To search the digitized records go to books.familysearch.org, enter your ancestor’s name into the search box and click “search.” Libraries or organizations interested in participating in the book digitization initiative can contact Dennis Meldrum, project manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.