Knowing that Microsoft Live Book Search searches many older books out of copyright, I wondered whether it would be useful for genealogy questions. So I tested it with a few of the names from my own family tree.
First I tried Tipton Coulter, a great grandfather who was born in Honey Grove, Texas, and was according to the 1900 Census an apiarist (beekeeper). I tried various combinations of his name and the places I know that he lived without success.
Second I tried Wiley Hamilton Roach, a great great grandfather who was born in Georgia and died from gunshot wounds after the Battle of Missionary Ridge in the Civil War. Again I found nothing.
Augusta Penn, an ancestor born in Ohio in 1824, was my next try. She is said to descend from the Penns of Pennsylvania. As with Coulter and Roach above, I found nothing.
Next I tried a search for my ancestor Richard Henry Alvey (1826-1906), who was a justice on the Maryland Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals in Washington, D. C. After finding nothing by searching his full name, I found a few tidbits by searching the phrase “Judge Alvey.” (I learned this trick when searching the Washington Post’s historical database.)
The first hit was in The Literary Guillotine by Charles Battell Loomis, published 1902, which, despite its title, seems to be legal commentaries. On page 52, the author comments on a patent law opinion that my ancestor expressed in the 1900 case Christensen v. Noyes.
Book 2 in the results list notes a legal decree concerning the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company penned by Judge Alvey in 1890.
The third book notes that my ancestor was appointed by President Grover Cleveland to the commission to settle a boundary dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana.
The next book, Recollections and Reflections by Wharton Jackson Green, was the most interesting item found in this search. Green was a Confederate lieutenant colonel from North Carolina in the Civil War. On page 173 of his memoir, he recalls being warmly invited into the judge’s home in Hagerstown, Maryland after bringing his troops across the Potomac River from Virginia in 1862. This is a very interesting story as there is a debate about how strong Judge Alvey’s southern sympathies were.
I next searched together “Alvey" and "Hagerstown” (not a phrase) to see if I would find anything else. I did.
The first item was Lamb’s Biographical Dictionary of the United States. On page 206 the profile for Louis Emory McComas says that he studied law with "Chief-Justice R. H. Alvey of Hagerstown."
The fifth item on the list was again Lamb’s Biographical Dictionary. This time it showed page 6, which had the “Alvey, Richard Henry” entry. This had a short summation of Alvey’s career.
The seventh item was the item previously found about Alvey being appointed to the commission to settle the South American boundary.
The other eleven items were false hits. “Alvey” and “Hagerstown” were terms on separated pages in the books.
I redid the search as the phrase "Alvey Richard" and retrived the Lamb's Biographical Dictionary and Harpers Encyclopedia of United States History from 458 A.D. to 1909, somehow published in 1905 according to the short bibliographic entry.
Microsoft Live Book Search would be greatly improved by an advanced proximity search so the researcher could require terms to be within a specified range of words or within a paragraph.
I did like the green highlighting of search words in the display of text. Finding the text was easy.
Microsoft Live Book Search is not especially good for genealogy yet, as there is still not enough content. Ancestors who are not famous are unlikely to be found. However, it is easy to do a search, so genealogists should try anyway. They might find something really interesting like an ancestor entertaining Confederate officers.