Back in 1971, Michael Hart, developed the idea of the today’s popular e-book (electronic books) being assessable on the Internet. He then elaborated the concept into Project Gutenberg. Maintaining the project is done by volunteers. They take the printed work and put it into digital format. The goal is to provide as many eBooks, in as many formats, as possible for the entire world to read in as many languages as possible. There are some 33,000 books in the Project Gutenberg and more added all the time. Many of these works were already in the public domain, published before 1923 or the author granted permission for the book to be available to the public without charge.
The Project Gutenberg has a search engine to browse the many categories and titles available on the site. Approximately 15 to 20 new books are added each day. If the researcher only has the topic in mind, that word or phrase goes in the subject box to be searched. A good example is looking for a book related to the county or state an ancestor lived in. The same method can be used in the title box. In the author box, there is the possibility an ancestor wrote a book and it is part of the collection.
Books in English are the main type, but there are many other books in various languages. Books in Dutch, French, Spanish and German are quite numerous, but there are also ones in Hebrew, Polish, North American Indian, Old English, Chinese and Irish.
The down-loadable formats include PDF, HTML, Rich Text, Kindle and other portable mobile formats. They can be read on an iPod, Sony Reader, iPhone, iPad, Kindle Reader, computers and others. There is no fee to download the books.
Another similar program is with the search engine, Google, they have ‘Google Books.’ The policy is if a book is out of copyright, or the publisher has given Google permission, anyone using Google Books can preview of the book, and in some cases the entire text. If it's in the public domain, anyone is free to download a PDF copy of the book.
There are several methods to view books on Google Books. One is in full view if the book is out of copyright, or if the publisher or author has asked to make the book fully viewable. In this method a reader can view any page from the book, and if the book is in the public domain, it can be downloaded, saved and printed a PDF version.
Another method is termed limited view. Here, the publisher or author gave Google permission for the reader to see a limited number of pages from the book just as a preview. The third method is called snippet view. This shows general information about the book plus a few snippets, just a few sentences which contain the topic or name a researcher was looking for in their search. A few other books have just a listing; with the title, author, publisher, date and where the book is available in retail stores.
A genealogical researcher may be totally unaware of what books on ancestors, localities or historical events are already available. Google Books are also working with libraries across the globe to make it easier for people to find relevant books, specifically, books they wouldn't find any other way such as those that are out of print.
The categories for Google Books are quite broad and include a full range of topics. Using the Google search in the book section can be done with surnames, events, localities and subjects. An example would be putting the surname ‘Everhart’ and a time of the 19th century. Some 26,000 titles appeared; covering books written by someone named Everhart to those with Everhart in the contents of the book. The small community of Manchester, Maryland in the 19th century can be searched and it will produce at least 137 results. Topics in reference to Manchester included; life in the town, public statutes of law, Civil War troops passing through Manchester, monuments dedicated and churches of the area.
The sources of books and publications need to be discovered and reviewed by researchers for their possible treasures. Between Project Gutenberg and Google Books, there are some great sites to explore.