5 Resources for Finding Digitized Historical Books Online

How often do you look for online books to enhance your genealogical research? If you are like most people, the answer is probably not often enough!

Online books are an underused resource because many of us don’t think to go looking for them.

What books can be offered in e-versions?

If the book is a recent publication, then it is likely on sale in several formats, including Kindle. HOWEVER, those books are not free and they are not copyright-free either.

The books to which I’m referring are historical books, those which are long free of copyright restrictions. Current U.S. copyright law states that books published before 1 January 1924 are in the public domain. Note that copyright laws elsewhere are often different.

Among the types of genealogy-related books that have been digitized:

County Histories
Mug Books (not criminal!)
Town Histories
Atlases and Map Books
Family Histories
Genealogy Newsletters
Genealogy Journals
Histories of notable buildings, places and events
Ship Histories
Government Reports (e.g. Adjutant General’s reports)


1. FamilySearch – Go to the SEARCH tab and then choose BOOKS:

Notice all the libraries that can be searched at once through FamilySearch!

Enter a title or author and the search will cover holdings in all the libraries on the list. Some titles will come up in multiple formats, e.g., hard copy book form, PDF or ExLibrisRosetta format. Some books are restricted to viewing at a FHC or even in the Family History Library itself because of copyright restrictions.

2. Google Books – Some books that were digitized early are almost unreadable. They used OCR (optical character recognition) when scanning books. It’s the same issue that occurs in reading old historical newspapers online where spelling becomes garbled because the scanner didn’t correctly interpret the letter/s. Thankfully, those versions are becoming a thing of the past, replaced by modern scanning methods.

Others, which include most digitized books today, are fabulous. The 1882 History of Linn County, Missouri found in Google Books has live links in the Table of Contents. How great is that?:

3. WorldCat – This site will locate the closest copy of a book you wish to read. It also includes a description of each format (hard copy, microfilm, PDF) held at each repository. Be sure to narrow your search to BOOKS.

When the book is available in ebook format at a college or university, you often have to have a library account with them. However, knowing that the book has been digitized is a tip off to look elsewhere.

Information will include other repositories where the digital version can be found:

An account is needed for the Pepperdine eBook. However, digital books at HathiTrust and Internet Archive are both viewable, in different formats.

4. HathiTrust Digital Library – large online library with many scholarly books

5. Internet Archive (home to the Wayback Machine, too) – large collection of historical digitized books.

I entered “John Whipple genealogy” as my search term and got the following hits:

Internet Archive apparently now offers a borrow feature, which I’ve never used. However, the Whipple search turned up several early volumes of family history, which I’ve used in the past. I can now refer back to them here at home.

The good news is that digitization has become so common and so good that the early books in that awful format I mentioned at the top of this post rarely come up anymore because the book has been redone.

The other good news is that more and more books are digitally available every day. Many of them can be accessed from the comfort of home.

Take advantage of this fabulous FREE resource in your own research.



4 thoughts on “5 Resources for Finding Digitized Historical Books Online”

  1. I was going to add that Heritage Quest also had digital books and went to the website to confirm – only to realize that since they’re now part of Ancestry, the book portion is gone! Bummer…
    Thanks for this list!

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