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Finding Digitized Books Online

Millions of digitized books and periodicals exist on the internet that can assist you in your research. The secret is knowing where to find them. Just ‘googling' a book's title may not help you, but knowing what websites feature digitized books can.


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Millions of digitized books and periodicals exist on the Internet that can assist you in your research. The secret is knowing where to find them. Just ‘googling' a book's title may not help you, but knowing what websites feature digitized books can.

Google Books

Millions of books and periodicals from libraries and publishers are housed at Google Books. While not all books are digitized on Google Books, those that are allow you the option of reading the book online, downloading it to your computer or using the Google search engine to find a name or a phrase inside the book. For, those books that are not fully digitized due to copyright restrictions, there is a feature where you can find a library that owns the book.

When searching for books in Google Books, make sure to conduct searches on a surname, full name, and a locality.

Heritage Quest Online

Heritage Quest is subscription based and is available through some libraries and Family History Centers. Heritage Quest provides access to over 24,000 digitized family and local history books that are no longer under copyright restriction. From their main page, click on ‘search books." From there you can search names, places, or even what publications are available. Once you search for a term, you will be provided a ‘hit list' with possible matches that you can then read online, download to your computer, or print.

Internet Archive

Internet Archive, Internet Archive, is a non-profit group working on building an online archive of websites and other ‘cultural artifacts' in digital form.

Books are organized in collections that include books from libraries and other groups and individuals. These collections include; American Libraries (864,944 items; Canadian Libraries (179,611 items); Universal Library (30,416 items); Project Guttenberg (20, 373 items); Children's Library (3, 322 items); Biodiversity Heritage Library (30,593 items); and Additional Collections (47,781). For more information about book titles and participating libraries, please see Internet Archives Text section.

One of the perks of using the Internet Archive is that they have digitized books from the Allen County Public Library. The Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne Indiana has one of the largest genealogy collections in the United States. To see this collection, from the homepage of Internet Archive, click on ‘text' and then ‘American Libraries'. Scroll down and there will be a list of libraries and from there click on ‘Allen County Public Library'. You can also find this collection under the ‘Additional Collections' category . There are over 5,000 books, including genealogy and local history books. They can be searched by title or author. You can also use the Internet Archive search engine.

Please note that under the ‘Additional Collections' category, there is a genealogy collection that include books from Allen County Public Library, University of Toronto, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Library and the Boston Public Library. Over 8,000 books are in this collection.

Project Guttenberg

Project Guttenberg is the first website that started digitizing and providing free books online. Currently they have over 28,000 free books that you can read online or download. While many of these are not genealogically related, there are a few that might be of interest.

From the Project Gutenberg main page, click on ‘advanced search' on the left hand side of the screen. From the advanced search you can type in a title, subject, or author. For the subject, ‘genealogy', there are four genealogy books available. Although the term "family history" brings up six titles, none are relevant to conducting family history research. Searching on the term ‘United States' brings up 644 books, quite a few of these books would be of interest to researchers, including the Naval History of the United States; The American Indian as Participant in the Civil War; and Anti Slavery Opinions before 1800.

Project Guttenberg also provides a list of its books that you can download and save on your computer or print out. This could be useful if you have a slow Internet connection or would like to go through the list and highlight all those you are interested in.

Project Guttenberg also has a news page, in the format of a blog at Project Gutenberg News that allows you to find out what is new with the website and features that may be of use to you in navigating the website.

Various Library Websites

When searching for digitized books online, don't forget to include public, private, state and university libraries as well as archives to your list of places to search. Many times, these repositories have included some digitized books to their collection. The following are just a few examples. Other websites that include digitized and transcribed books include Ancestry, World Vital Records, Genealogy Today and the U.S. GenWeb.

The University of Pennsylvania has a site entitled The Online Books Page. This collection of books, is not digitized by the University of Pennsylvania but instead is an index of various online resources for digitized and transcribed books.

Several links within the website provide books that include history, genealogy, and diaries. By clicking on subjects under the title ‘Books Online', you can scroll down and see a list of books by subject. Subjects of interest to the family historian would include History: United States (General); History: United States (Regional) and the Americas; Geography, Anthropology, Folklore, Recreation; Social Sciences, and more. While most of these are not going to be on a particular family, they are going to provide some great social history to enrich your history narrative. In the subject category of ‘Regional United States History', there is a link for the online transcribed book, A Genealogical Dictionary of the First Settlers of New England Before 1692.

Brigham Young University's Family History Archive, includes digitized family history books that can be read online, downloaded, and searched. When searching for surname books through the Family History Library catalog, links will appear to take you straight to this collection, if the book has been digitized. You can also choose to use the search engine at the Family History Archive to find books.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2009.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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