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Kimberly Powell

Share & Preserve Family History at Internet Archive

By February 15, 2011

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Brewster Kahle, digital librarian and founder of the Internet Archive, is not overly interested in his own personal family history. He does have relatives who have researched his past, and he knows that he descends from Mayflower pilgrim, William Brewster. Beyond that, he really doesn't feel the need to know more. Instead, his personal passion is to help make the world's knowledge freely available to all. That's why he took time out to appear as a featured speaker at the recent RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City, and also to sit down and talk with me about the Internet Archive and Open Library and their application for genealogists.

Most of you probably know Internet Archive for its Wayback Machine, which puts the history of the Internet at your fingertips, displaying past versions of Web sites going back to 1996. I know many genealogists are also aware that Internet Archive is a great, free resource for accessing digital versions of out-of-copyright family histories, scanned images of all U.S. census records 1790-1930 (not indexed, but a free source of the digitized images), past issues of old genealogical quarterlies, military records and much more. If your primary focus is books, then try the archive's site OpenLibrary for a fully-searchable interface to the published books on archive.org and links to other online book collections. This allows you to search inside the text across all digitized books at once. The Allen County Public Library's Genealogy Department and the Library of Congress have both contributed thousands of books from their genealogy collections.

Internet Archive welcomes uploads from genealogists of public domain photographs, books, family Bibles, journals, diaries, documents and more. If your contribution is a book, then the Internet Archive software automatically does its magic once you upload the PDF file, including OCR technology to make it searchable, and converting the book into multiple formats for easy download and reading on various devices, including Kindle, Daisy and DjVu. Please only contribute books, audio, and video files that you have the right to share, either because they are in the public domain or because you hold the copyright. The non-profit Internet Archive library will provide free storage and access to them. It's definitely an interesting solution for publishing and sharing a family history book that you've written for your family - free storage and free downloads, can't get much better than that. It's also an option for societies looking to freely share back issues of their Quarterlies or other genealogical publications. I'm thinking it might be a great place to upload the orphan photos and albums that I rescue from antique stores before returning them to a family member so that other descendants will have access to them as well.

Brewster Kahle describes the Internet Archive as an "engine of research" and Open Library as "a Wikipedia of books." The sites are supported by the Kahle/Austin Foundation, a $45 million trust, along with partnerships, grants and donations. As for why Brewster Kahle works so tirelessly to offer permanent, digital access to the world's historical collections? He says, "If I can make an effect on how history works, then I'll work hard at it." His enthusiasm for free access to knowledge is infectious, and I'm honored to have had the opportunity to speak with him.

February 15, 2011 at 1:25 pm
(1) Michael Gelinas says:


Thanks for posting.

Your experience with Mr. Kahle sounds fascinating. There are so many amazing people reinventing the study of history via technology.

Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for freedom of information.

Michael Gelinas

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