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Try Goodreads for Genealogy Inspiration

Are you using Goodreads ? I will admit that I wasn’t until recently. It was one of those websites that I signed up for years ago and then almost as soon as I had, I forgot about it. Recently my nephew helped me to see the importance of Goodreads and how it can be helpful to family historians.

Goodreads website

First, let me explain what Goodreads is. The Goodreads About Us web page states, “Goodreads is the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations. Our mission is to help people find and share books they love.” Wikipedia  explains that Goodreads is “a social cataloging website that allows individuals to freely search its database of books, annotations, and reviews. Users can sign up and register books to generate library catalogs and reading lists. They can also create their own groups of book suggestions, surveys, polls, blogs, and discussions.”

To be honest, even though I LOVE books, these website descriptions weren’t enough to interest me. What did finally interest me was the ability to create virtual  “bookshelves” of books I want to read or have read. Goodreads does more than this but I want to focus on this aspect of the app and how it can help family historians.

What really convinced me to give the Goodreads app a try were the experiences and enthusiasm of  those around me. My brother and nephew use it to find new books and track their reading. My brother even challenged himself to set a reading goal for 2018 which you can do via the Goodreads Reading Challenge (you can find this under the More link on the app). Legacy Webinar speaker and archivist Melissa LeMaster Barker (The Archive Lady) says, “I am an avid user of the Goodreads app. I love the fact that I can access my collection of genealogy and archives books that I own anytime and anywhere. This comes in real handy when I am at the bookstore and I am wondering if I have a particular book, I just check the Goodreads app. Also, if I come across a source citation for a particular book in a reference work at the archives, I can check to see if I have that book by checking the app. I can also add genealogy and archives related books to my “to-read list” by just accessing the app and adding the book to the list.”

So after talking to friends and family it became obvious to me that Goodreads would enhance my reading life by tracking genealogy books I read and finding new books  to read to learn about my ancestors' life.

Getting Started

How do you get started with Goodreads? You can sign up for a free account on the Goodreads website or through the mobile app. I suggest that you use the app since that will give you the tools you need away from home at libraries and bookstores. To use the app you will need to first download the free Goodreads app  from your mobile device’s app store. Although you could just use the desktop version of the service, the Scan  feature is only available using a mobile device with a camera (more on this later).

Searching for Books

The Goodreads app is fairly simple to use. Why I fell in love with it is its ability to add books to virtual bookshelves labeled, Want to Read, Currently Reading, and Read. Goodreads allows you to create additional bookshelves. I, of course, created a “genealogy” shelf but I could see this being useful for more specific genealogical topics (think DNA or Eastern European Genealogy). You can view your shelves and the books on them by clicking on My Books at the bottom toolbar of the app.


Two ways to add books to your bookshelves are by searching for a book (click Search at the bottom of the app and then enter a title or author) or  click on the books featured on the Goodreads  home page in  categories like  Trending and Popular or based on what you have read or what your “friends” have read/reading/ or want to read. Yes, Goodreads allows you to “friend” others (family, real life friends, those with similar reading interests) just as you do on other social media websites.

My books 2


Another way to add books is actually my favorite part of the mobile app,  the Scan feature. I don’t know about you but when I’m at a bookstore, the books I’m interested in far outweigh the amount of money I have to spend. So when that happens, you can scan the book’s barcode (look at the back cover) and Goodreads will identify that book and allow you to place it on a bookshelf. Easy! Now when I’m at a library,conference, a bookstore, or even a friend’s house, I can easily upload the books I want to read. And, I can even upload books in my own collection. What a great idea since I’ve bought the same book more than once on several occasions!

Scan book 2

There’s More

I’m just touching the surface of what you can do with Goodreads. Goodreads has other features that will enhance your genealogy as well including the ability to join groups, review what you’ve read,  and connect your Kindle with Goodreads (Goodreads is owned by Amazon) so that you can view your Kindle notes and highlights on the Goodreads app (to learn more about using Goodreads and Kindle together see the Goodreads Help subjects on this topic.)

Use Goodreads for your genealogy? Yes! Keep track of your 2019 genealogy reading goals by using Goodreads to track what you have read and what you want to read.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


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You also might want to check out It too has a desktop version and mobile app. You can keep track of books you own, have read or want to read, and post reviews or recommendations. There is also a social aspect with the numerous groups including a genealogy group. I joined eleven years ago and it has saved me more than once from buying a duplicate book.

Link to Goodreads at top of article doesn't work.

Should be

Can a book entry in GoodReads include a link to an online copy of the book, so it could readily be accessed for reference purposes?

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