A great expanded updated search engine site done by Google is titled ‘Google Patents’ and it allows you to research for any and all patents submitted by any person in the United States from the 1790s to the present time. This is far more complete than earlier databases for patent searches. Its sources are the official United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This database of the actual scanned patent applications is available because those documents are part of public domain and accessible to everyone.
There are over 8 million patents in the database, but again just those within the United States. The Google Patent site hopes to include international patents in the future. There is a simple search box or you can use the advance search box to see if an ancestor ever submitted a patent. You would be amazed of some of the ideas our ingenious relatives came with to solve some of life’s problems.
In the simple search box, if you have the given and last name of a certain ancestor place quote marks at the beginning and end of the names. That helps narrow down the search. Keep in mind the initials may have been used also on the patent document. In the advanced search there is a box to fill in given names along with a time period range, such as 1880 to 1900.
Once a listing of possible patents and their inventor comes up, Google has already ranked them based on what information you provided. First check the patent’s date, if it before or after the birth and death of a certain ancestor, it is unlikely that patent goes with your ancestor. If you find one, click on it and see the full description and any drawings. One thing not available is how many if any of that item were ever sold.
To save a patent drawing or document there are several choices. You can save it to your computer. At the top of the web page is a save in PDF format available that you can click and have it on your computer. The description can also be put into text format to be placed on a word processor. Most of the patents have some wonderful drawings with the complete description of the invention. A patent number is also issued, along with additional names of co-inventors, patent attorneys and witnesses.
An example of finding some surprise inventions by a relative is the case of Samuel A. Groff. In the search was found a May 21, 1895 patent by Groff of a safeguard for cable or electric railroad cars. There was a full description and drawing.
Another invention patented on October 6, 1903 by Samuel A. Groff was a projectile containing explosives (see a portion of the drawing above). The drawing was very detailed and at the end included Sam’s signature, a nice bonus to the search.
If you just search using a surname, especially if it is an unusual name, you will be amazed at the variety of inventions our relatives developed. So starting investigating and make that unusual discovery.