Select Page

Use the right Google!

Reader Sherwin was frustrated at not being able to find what he was looking for.

“In early 19th century Kentucky, an ancestor served as constable and as jailer,” he wrote. “The old Order Books speak of ‘the oaths required by law’ that he took for the offices. I thought it would be as simple as Googling to find the text of those oaths, but they are turning out to be more elusive. Similarly, several religious denominations had, I thought, ministerial manuals for their clergy to utilize on needed occasions. Stock prayers or printed rituals to be read at christenings, weddings, funerals, etc. But these, too, are not easily found.”

It took The Legal Genealogist about a minute to find both.

And it dawned on me almost immediately why it was so easy for me … and so hard for Sherwin.

He’s using the wrong Google.

Waitaminnit, you may think. There’s only one Google. Whaddaya mean, the wrong Google???

The reality is, Google has different search engines focused on different resources. And just going to the Google search bar in your browser is often not enough to get you where you want to go.

Let’s take Sherwin’s first issue — the oath required by law for a constable in Kentucky in the early 1800s. We’ll take the search term “oath of office constable kentucky” and enter it in the regular Google search box.

The results? Roughly 739,000 hits starting with a 2015 article:

Google search

Not very helpful, is it?

Now let’s take that exact same search term and run it again:

Google Books search

The very first result now? The 1834 Kentucky statutes with the text of the specific oath of office for a constable.

Why the difference?

I used the right Google — in this case, the search engine for Google Books.

The essential difference between the two is that the general Google search looks at anything and everything it can find on the web, including vast amounts of information added in recent years. Searching on Google Books, on the other hand, is limited only to a subset of that information — digitized books, like the Kentucky statute book from 1834. According to Google, that’s more than 10 million free books, so far,1 and — including books available only as snippets — “more than 40 million books in over 400 languages.”2

Same thing with the church records — the Book of Common Prayer, for example. You want the one in use today? Use Google search. You want the one from 1737 or 1835? Use Google Books.

For the basic search, start at the entry page for Google Books. You can narrow your results by time period and more using the dropdown links above the search results. Or try out the advanced search for Google Books.

And, by the way, Google Books isn’t the only specialized Google search engine we as genealogists might want to use. Check out Google Scholar and its advanced search, or Google Patents and its advanced search. Or

And take a look at Google News and the Google News Archive while you’re at it.

So it really is as easy as just Googling it.

But only if you use the right Google.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Google that, but..,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 24 Nov 2020).


  1. About Google Books: History: Free books in Google Books,” Google Books ( : accessed 24 Nov 2020).
  2. Haimin Lee, “15 years of Google Books,” Google Keyword blog, posted 17 Oct 2019 ( : accessed 24 Nov 2020).
Print Friendly, PDF & Email