Is a book about your family out there somewhere, just waiting to be discovered? You may be able to find one without ever leaving the comfort of your home! Digital books are all over the Internet, and many are free to use. Here are the best places to look for digital books about genealogy.
Launched in 2004 as "Google Print," Google Books now contains over 25 million scanned book titles. A Google Books search works just like a regular web search: type in your search criteria, and if a book with matching content is available, it will appear in your search results. If a book is out of copyright, or the publisher has given permission, you will be able to see a preview of the book, and in some cases, the entire book. Copyrighted books are only available in "snippet view," however, links to where you can buy or borrow the book from a library are also provided. With a free Google account, you can add the books you’ve found to your personal library for later reference.
The appropriately-named Internet Archive began in 1996 with the goal of archiving the Internet, but the project soon expanded into providing digital versions of other published works. Today, the Internet Archive contains over 12 million freely downloadable books and texts, as well as 550,000 modern ebooks that may be borrowed by anyone with a free account. You can expect to find family, county and local histories, census records, and even contemporary genealogy how-to books. Most books are offered in several different formats, including DAISY files for the print-disabled.
HathiTrust Digital Library
HathiTrust (pronounced "haw tea") is a partnership of several academic and research institutions offering a collection of over 15 million titles from libraries around the world. Books that are uncopyrightable (i.e., some government works) or in the public domain can be searched and viewed in their entirety, as well as downloaded in PDF format. Books that are still in copyright are considered "limited," cannot be viewed, but can be searched, allowing you to decide whether or not to obtain a physical copy of the book from another source.
The Family History Books collection at FamilySearch contains more than 325,000 digitized genealogy and family history publications from the archives of family history libraries such as the Allen County Public Library and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Included in the collection are family histories, county and local histories, genealogy magazines and how-to books, gazetteers, and medieval histories and pedigrees. While some books are only viewable at a Family History Center, many can be viewed from – and downloaded to – your home computer.
MyHeritage: Compilation of Published Sources
One of MyHeritage's best-kept secrets is their repository of digitized books. All are free to access, and you don't even need to log in with a free account! The site currently hosts 84,206,892 pages from 447,870 sources, including "thousands of published books ranging from family, local and military histories, city and county directories, school, university and hospital reports, church and congregational minutes and much more." All records include images of the book's pages, as well as an OCR text transcription. If you have a MyHeritage account, you can save records directly to a person in your tree. You can also print or download individual pages, although it does not appear possible to download entire books at this time. To learn more about the digital books at MyHeritage watch the free Legacy webinar - Book Matching Technology at MyHeritage.
BONUS: Genealogy Gophers
Despite the funny name, Genealogy Gophers offers access to more than 80,000 digitized "family histories, regional and local histories, genealogy magazines, how-to books, gazetteers, newsletters, and medieval histories." Digitized books are provided through a partnership with FamilySearch, Archive.org, and other free book sources on the Internet. What makes Genealogy Gophers different from the other sites is their search technology, developed specifically for "identifying real people named in genealogy books." In other words, your searches are more likely to return useful results. Having performed searches on all of the sites listed in this post, I can honestly say that I found Genealogy Gopher's results to be surprisingly different than what I received on any of the partner sites. They are definitely worth a try!
Elizabeth O’Neal is a freelance writer, educator, and web developer. An avid genealogist for three decades, Elizabeth writes the blog My Descendant’s Ancestors, where she shares family stories, technology and methodology tips, and hosts the monthly "Genealogy Blog Party."