Monday, January 11, 2010

Online Resources - a Gross compilation

I was reading an 1888 book about the family of one of my historical characters. In the very detailed description of what a pilgrim girl wore in the 1680s I found the quoted phrase "loose gowu."

What is a "gowu?" I went on an online quest, as I often do. But I did not go to google, as most people would. This was one of those times when I went through the whole journey, as detailed below, only to end up questioning whether the word was a typo in the original text, having possibly meant "gown."

This was perhaps my first unsolved mystery in all my research (about generic data), because usually I need go no further than the following to find my answers...

  1. - factual & well researched origins of words and phrases
  2. & - factual & well researched
  3. WikipediA - usually well documented, but facts need to be verified, especially with "legendary" info (50% of the info on 18th century pirates is incorrect, citing disputable references). Most other reference sites are stealing from WikipediA.
  4. google books - it's amazing how many out-of-print books they have digitized. You can both read the original text & search it online by key words! Text is converted by OCR, so it's hit or miss when searching. You can also read several pages of newer books that have "preview" available, though inevitably the page you really need will often be missing.
  5. - actually offers previews of many books, where you can often find the missing pages not previewed in google books. A bit tedious, but worth it for that gem you need.
  6. Project Gutenberg - volunteers are digitizing out-of-print historical books & documents. Fallible OCR technology.
  7. google maps & google earth - for places, just go look at it! If you can download the FREE google earth software, you'll be amazed what you can see & do. I like to FLY!
  8. FamilySearch - detailed genealogies. The Mormons are dedicated to rounding up all of our ancestors. Much like WikipediA, the info here is only as good as what is inputted by well-meaning but sometimes mistaken family historians. So, it's a good starting point for genealogical research, but not the end-all. Refer back to google books after finding some connections.
  9. British History Online - very exciting transcriptions from Colonial & British documents dating back to the 11th century. Compiled by dedicated scholars whom I've personally met. Much of the info is free, but for about $40/year you can upgrade to have full access.
For a monthly or annual subscription fee, some other fully accessible online resources include:

  1. British History Online - £24/year (approx. $40/year)
  2. footnote - $80/year - digitized documents from the USA National Archives - much easier to use than the National Archives websites
  3. The National Archives in England - per item fees when specific documents are available/digitized, such as papers from the Colonial Office which are often referenced in British History Online & historical bibliographies (for example, enter "CO 37/10" in the "Go to reference" search box). Online searching here is a bit frustrating. It's much more fun to go to the actual Archives in Kew, England.
If all these fail, just use google & lots of discretion!

For more details on these & more on-site resources, you can check out my July 8, 2009 blog.