Find family history treasures online

By Editor, 29 January 2015 - 12:26pm

Speculative searches online can bring up unusual finds, as editor Sarah Williams recently discovered when typing in her great grandfather's name

Sarah Williams is editor at Who Do You Think You Are? MagazineThursday 29 January 2015
Sarah Williams, editor
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When I was a student I was a big fan of secondhand bookshops. I couldn’t pass one without popping in and browsing the shelves, coming out with little treasures or at least unmissable bargains. Most of the secondhand bookshops I used to frequent have now gone and charity shops have taken their place.

However, while researching my great grandfather for a talk I was giving at Who Do You Think You Are? Live, I came across the site AbeBooks.co.uk. It’s a central marketplace for secondhand books and is a veritable Aladdin’s cave. Although, if the look of the book is important to you, then make sure you are buying an original and not a print-on-demand copy.

My talk at WDYTYA? Live was about using some of the techniques that the TV series researchers use when they research their celebrity stories. One of my tips was to ‘Lucky dip’ online resources and another one was to put the ancestor you were researching into historical context.

AbeBooks came up trumps for both of these tips. My great grandfather was a doctor and surgeon in Birmingham and I discovered that he had written a book called The treatment of Gonorrhoea in the Male. When I came across a copy on AbeBooks I ordered it immediately and it became an entertaining gift for my sister who has followed in his medical footsteps.

My great grandfather was also a field surgeon during the Boer War and I ordered a beautiful copy of The Tale of a Field Hospital by Frederick Treves (of Elephant Man fame). It was a short but fascinating read including photographs that he had taken during his time there. It helped me visualise my great grandfather’s experiences in South Africa better than anything.

Of course, the great thing is that many old or out of print books are also available for free to view on archive.org (including ‘The Tale of a Field Hospital’ and my great grandfather’s book on Gonnorhoea) and this is a great first port of call, but I speak from the heart when I say that nothing quite beats having an actual copy of the book in your hands.

As I said, I gave a copy of my great grandfather’s book to my sister, but last week, I couldn’t resist buying a copy for myself. Now I just need to find his other publication The Sterilization of the Hands – I think I will need it after reading his first one!

 

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