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Saturday, March 27, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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Getting Started / Linda Knapp
Countless levels of data on libraries' Web sites


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Google, the No. 1 search engine, can't offer all the information we might want from the Internet. In fact, we can't get to some extremely useful information that's on the Net simply by asking Google.

I'm talking about those information-rich databases that are generally expensive and require membership for access.

Public libraries, for example, subscribe to several of these databases and make them freely available to patrons. The databases include full-text newspaper and magazine articles, congressional documents, "Books in Print," genealogy records and other resources. Some are accessible only from library computers, but most are searchable by library-card holders from wherever they have Net access.

As I write, I have the King Country Library System Web site (www.kcls.org) open to its database directory and note 18 categories that include literature, biography, periodicals, e-books, encyclopedias, government, law, health, science, technology, history and more.

When I select Arts & Literature, there's a list of databases that include the AP (Associated Press) archive of images, congressional records, the New York Times (1857 to the present), articles from more than 4,000 magazines and special databases for kids with age-appropriate articles and other materials.

I go to the New York Times database and enter my birthdate, many years ago. The results provide links to that edition's 450 articles. Then I look for an article published a few months ago and the results display both an abstract and the full text. I'm able to read and print any articles without having to pay a cent.

In truth, our tax dollars pay for access to these comprehensive databases, so I think more people should know about them. Librarians are continually trying to inform the public, and maybe this column can help.

Next, I click to the genealogy databases because my daughter is interested in learning about some of her crazy ancestors. Heritage Quest is accessible from home, so I choose the People category and enter Cornelius Felton, one of my known ancestors, who was a president of Harvard University.

Besides him, there's much family lore about Sir Thomas de Felton, a 14th century knight, as well as John Felton, who murdered the Duke of Buckingham and landed in the Tower of London, and a mysterious pirate who didn't.

Cornelius' biography pops up in the Heritage Quest database and reference to the book, "A Genealogical History of the Felton Family." Naturally, I'm curious.
 
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In the Publications section of the Heritage Quest database, I find the book and am able to view some photocopied pages. Browsing those, I'm able to locate my grandfather.

Back to the directory, I look for a database that will help me find the book, which must be out of print by now.

"Books In Print," I discover, also includes books out of print, and there's the book, published by Higginson Book Company. I find the publisher's Web site by searching Google and order a copy (I think it's a print-on-demand kind of book).

Motivated by my finds so far, I head to my local library and use one of its computers to access the more restrictive Ancestry Plus site. Heritage Quest focuses on my American ancestors and I'm hoping Ancestry Plus will provide more information on English ancestors before their arrival in 1633.

An hour's digging brings some tidbits and the urge for more. I actually find Sir Thomas with a list of his knightly battles, and John, who reportedly murdered the Duke (in 1628) because his application for a captain's commission was "scornfully refused." Interestingly, John was also described as a national benefactor in popular ballads. Still, he was hanged. No wonder Nathanial Felton left for America soon afterward.

Back home, I discover the Seattle Public Library system (www.spl.org) has the same genealogy sites plus one or two others, and so does the Sno-Isle Libraries system in Snohomish and Island counties (www.snoisle.org).

Meanwhile, my husband goes online to Google and finds additional information by doing simple name searches on Hannah Felton and John Proctor. We've heard our families connected back in the 17th century, and what he found confirms that we're about 10th cousins. It also demonstrates that Google, the public's favorite free search engine, is pretty versatile.

It's been fun, and in the process I've learned that public libraries can add significant value to general Internet searching. You may not care much about genealogy, but I'll bet you can find something of interest in your library's databases if you take the time to look.

Have fun, and don't forget your library card.

Write Linda Knapp at lknapp@seattletimes.com. To read other Getting Started columns organized by topic, go to www.seattletimes.com/gettingstarted.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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