Accessing Digital Books Online for Genealogical Research

How often do you wish you could get your hands on “the” book that might provide new information about ancestors in your family tree? It might be much easier than you think.

There are digitized books available for free on several different sites and the ability to locate them is as close as your computer search engine.

Online books seem to be another one of those vastly underused resources available to genealogists. Books under copyright (published later than 1923) for the most part won’t be available for free online unless the author specifically gives permission. Occasionally, I have come across a handful of such books, but they are few and far between.

Many family historians also seem to believe that books published decades or even centuries ago are not suitable for modern day research. Those early genealogically-oriented books are just as reliable as books published in the 20th or 21st century. As with any source, it is up to the researcher to determine whether or not the information is trustworthy.

Those who pass up the opportunity to read what others have published might be missing a chance to uncover new branches of the family tree or, at the least, glean new clues for future research.

Now that I’ve convinced you to search out books online, where should you begin looking?

WorldCat should be your first stop if you know the title of the book.

Although you can sign up for a free account, one isn’t required to do searches. WorldCat will not only list the closest libraries to you that have a physical copy of the book, it will include other formats available, such as PDF or other digital files.

FamilySearch, Google Books and Internet Archive are the other major repositories with digital books available.

FamilySearch searches not only its own collection of books, but the collections of 15 other libraries:

While FamilySearch is limited to genealogical and historically related topics, GoogleBooks offers a much wider range of subject matter. However, you must have an author’s name, a title or a somewhat narrow subject range or you will be reviewing many (unrelated) hits.

I entered Tarbox as a search term, as the surname is fairly unique and limited. There are 274,000 results!

Internet Archive has a growing collection of digital books on a variety of topics. A search for Tarbox on this website brought up 209 hits.

Both Google Books and Internet Archive are more cumbersome to plod through, but each collection is unique and worth the time to browse reasonable numbers of hits.

To reiterate about copyright restrictions, it is important to remember with the beginning of each new calendar year, volumes published long ago emerge from copyright restrictions and what wasn’t accessible last year might be this year.

It’s also important to remember that there are MANY – thousands – of books published before the current cutoff year for copyright restriction that haven’t yet been digitized.

Online collections are growing by leaps and bounds. take the time to search out online books to find new clues about your family tree or to verify previously found data. You won’t be disappointed.

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