Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Internet Archive

It never ceases to amaze me how many new things I can learn in one day if I just keep an open mind - and give myself permission to wander aimlessly. There was a day when that aimless wandering would include hours and hours of scouring a used book store for hidden treasure. That Aha! moment when you pull some dusty, musty, ancient-looking tome down from a shelf and  discover that it is something very, very special - like a first edition copy of Gone With The Wind or Leaves of Grass. Don't laugh.  Happens all the time - just not to me.

We all get caught up in our busy lives and often forget to take the time to wander around and "see what's out there". These days, I don't spend as much time as I used to in used book stores - but I often find myself wandering around the Internet - usually because I have read some article or blog post that directs me to some other content and, eventually, leads me to a new resource.

If you are one of those people who sat down one day and decided to see what you could find out about your family history in a few hours and were happy to walk away with a page or two of random data - then no need to read on.  But if that hour or two resulted in you contracting a serious case of geneaologitis, then you know that there never seems to be an end to the possibilities.  Every single day I work on my family history project I learn something new.

Lately there has been some press about the fact that Google Books, with all its good intentions of digitizing every book they could get their hands on, was backing off that commitment.  But just when you think the door may be closed on getting digital access to materials relevant to genealogy, along comes the Internet Archive to pick up the slack and carry on.  Currently, they are adding 1,000 books each day to their digital archives. No, that wasn't a typo.  One-thousand-books-each-day.  How did I know about this?  I read genealogy blogs.

So I opened up a new tab on my Internet browser and took a virtual "stroll".  OMG!

What is the Internet Archive?  It is a non-profit organization that has created one of the world's largest open collections of digitized books, over six million public domain books, and an open library catalog.  The digitized books are available in many more formats than those from other online services, including PDF, Kindle, EPUB and more.  Of course, you can just read any book in their catalog by simply displaying it on your computer screen

According to one of Dick Eastman's recent blog posts, "the Internet Archive has digitized 1.9 million videos, home movies, and 4,000 public-domain feature films.  It has also added .2.3 million audio recordings, 74,000 radio broadcasts, 13,000 78rpm records, and 1.7 million Creative Commons-licensed audio recordings, more than 137,000 concert recordings, nearly 10,000 from the Grateful Dead alone.  Other items added to the FREE online archives include more than 10,000 audiobooks from LibriVox, 668,000 news broadcasts with full-text search, and the largest collection of historical software in the world."

WOW!  That's a lot of stuff.  And just so we're clear, it's not just English language books.  There is stuff from all over the world in just about every language you can think of.  And it's all FREE. Under the topic of genealogy alone there 90,763 items available: 91,132 texts, 261 audio recordings, 104 movies, 69 web pages, 48 images, 34 software items, 30 data items and 15 concerts.  Whew!

How does this help your family history research?  Well, I found a video of my maternal grandmother's hometown in Germany, and one of the church she and my grandfather were married in. I found a book about the history of my hometown that was published in the 1930s which was chock full of stuff I never knew, including photos of the town as it looked around the time my grandparents settled there.  Just for fun, I searched using my last name and found 137 items.

Check it out and have some fun wandering around. Prepare to be amazed!

-- submitted by Denise Doyon

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