“I Can’t Research, The Library is Closed”


Image courtesy Pikist

We say repeatedly, “Don’t neglect books, not everything is online or ever will be.” But what do we do when the libraries are closed?


Good news! You can still search for books. Perhaps the source best known by the public is Google Books. According to the New York Times, Google has scanned over 25 million books.[1] I entered “History of the Ball Family in Virginia” and got hundreds of books and journals. I need to refine my search to determine which Ball family.

Ancestry.com has also published books. Going to Search > Card Catalog > Stories Memories & Histories and entering the keywords Ball and Virginia brought up 17 books including information about the Ball family in Virginia. The first hit was a book containing a biographical sketch of Mrs. Mary Ball Washington, the mother of George Washington. Reviewing the list, I saw others I need to review as I research that line.


FamilySearch.org has digitized hundreds of thousands of books from all over the world, including many family histories. Once again, searching Books with the term “History of the Ball Family of Virginia” brought up 145,585 results. Oops! I need to refine that search. Some of the books can be viewed only at the Family History Library, but many that are out of copyright can be read in full online. Some of these books are the same as the ones digitized on Ancestry.com. FamilySearch.org is free, so if you do not have an Ancestry.com subscription or access to it through your public library, you can view it on FamilySearch.org.

King County Library System and WorldCat.org

If you locate a book you would like to research, check the KCLS catalog. If the book is listed in their collection and is not marked “Research” you may be able to borrow it through inter-library loan and pick it up through curbside pick-up at your local branch library. I have used this service and it works very well. Even if the book you are seeking is not in the KCLS catalog, check WorldCat.org and request the volume through Inter-Library loan. The owning institutions may or may not be willing to loan during this time, but I am sure some are continuing to loan.

Daughters of the American Revolution

Genealogists should never overlook the DAR library. Read the explanatory notes fully because the DAR Library does not use the Library of Congress cataloging system with which many of us are familiar. I have not been successful in accessing a digital book directly, but the catalog contains links to electronic resources. Searching for “Diaries – Oregon Trail” I received a link to an Oregon Trail Diary that had been digitized by the Works Progress Administration. The full text is available on FamilySearch.org. Even if there is not an electronic link, a search in the DAR Library may uncover a resource you can then locate using WorldCat.org.


Archive.org is not a very “user-friendly” site, but if you are a patient searcher you may uncover some gems not found elsewhere. Their catalog lists 436 items in their Family History Book Collection.


“HathiTrust is a not-for-profit collaborative of academic and research libraries preserving 17+ million digitized items.”[2] Normally you would have to be affiliated with an academic institution to access their collections, but during the Coronavirus pandemic, they have made their resources available to all. I logged in using my Facebook account. There are other options available as well. A search for “Genealogy” in English returned 3249 items. These tend to be academically oriented books and articles. If the item is out of copyright, it is full-text searchable. This would be a good resource for researching colonial-era ancestors.

Seattle Genealogical Society Library

Even though the SGS Library remains closed and will not reopen until King County reaches Stage 4, they are providing limited research services. Go to seagensoc.org and navigate to Research Services. Complete the form and mail it with required payment and they will make every effort to fulfill your request.

Heritage Quest Research Library

Not all libraries are closed. Heritage Quest Research Library in Sumner, Washington has recently reopened with limited hours. They have a collection of 15000 books, plus access to Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com. HQRL is a FamilySearch affiliate which makes it possible to access records previously available only at Family History Centers. This is not a free library. The annual membership is $40. The day-use fee is $15.

Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to research my family in some of these marvelous resources I have found.

Barbara Mattoon      

President, South King County Genealogical Society

[1] Stephanie Heyman, “Google Books: A Complex and Controversial Experiment,” The New York Times, 28 October 2015, (http://nytunes,coim/2015/10/29/arts/international/gogle-books-a-complex-and-controversial-experiment.html : 27 Aug 2020).

[2] “Welcome to HathiTrust!” (HathiTrust.org/about : accessed 28 August 2020)


  1. Good information!! I have found some great books on Hathi Trust!!


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