Genealogy with Nancy: A Guide to Online Resources for Digitized Historical Books

Exploring Family History With Nancy

Before the digitization of books, genealogists had to either visit a library in person to use a book or attempt to request it through interlibrary loan. Today there are an amazing number of FREE digitized books that genealogists can access with an Internet connection. Today we’re going to look at some web sites containing digitized historical books.


The FamilySearch Digital Library is a free virtual online library of rare historic books contributed by large public libraries and societies that can help you discover rich, unknown details about the lives of your ancestors. This makes the Library a priceless online repository of some of the greatest hidden historic treasures. The collection, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, began in 2007 and is invaluable to genealogists and family historians.

When you click on the link below, it will take you to the FamilySearch Digital Library. You need to be logged into FamilySearch in order to read the books, so if you haven’t set up a free login and password, you’ll need to do so by clicking on the sign in link on the top right-hand side of the page.

Internet Archive

This fantastic site is an ever-expanding collection of genealogy resources includes items from several major libraries in the U. S., Canada, and Scotland. Resources include, among many things, books on surname origins, vital statistics, parish records, census records, passenger lists of vessels, and other historical and biographical documents. The little search box is on the upper left side of the page. Be sure you click on “Text contents” before searching, as this will display items containing your search term(s).

Genealogy Gophers

This site allows you to search for your ancestors in 80,000 digital genealogy books for free. These items are either out of copyright or the authors have given permission to have their books placed here. You can also download and save a book if you want to keep it for reference.

HathiTrust Digital Library – Ancestry and Genealogy

Currently this is a relatively small collection, with 2,760 items related to genealogy, family history, ancestry, etc. At this writing, 2,694 of these items are full-view. You can search and read them, and you may be able to download a portion of it, such as an article or chapter. However, for works with download restrictions, only members of HathiTrust have the option to download portions of the work. When you bring up the full-text item, check the frame on the left side of the page under “Get this Book” for downloading information.;c=332123463

Google Books

Google Books is another great resource for accessing digitized books. Many of these items are also in the public domain, meaning that they’re freely accessible. If this is the case, you’ll see the word “Read” under the search result. Click on the title to access the book. You can then download, save, and print a PDF version to read at your leisure. A good way to search for family histories in Google Books is to use the phrase “intitle:genealogy [surname]” in the search box. or

If a book isn’t in the public domain, you’ll see either “Snippet view” or “No preview” instead of “Read.” “Snippet view” lets you see small portions of the book that highlight the search terms, and sometimes a brief description of the book’s contents. “No preview” means you’ll see only the book’s bibliographic information. If you want to check on availability of a book listed this way, you can try searching for it at to find a library that owns it.

Take some time to explore these great sites. Your ancestors may be lurking there!

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