I use online books all the time in my family history research. From city directories to county histories to family genealogies, I’m always turning to online books for hints as to where my family might have lived. Here are some fee and free offerings that I’ve found helpful (and a few that I’ve never needed but that might be helpful in your research).


Fee or Free Books



Ancestry catalog

The Ancestry Card Catalog (I linked to a random page in their book search) has many useful genealogy books that are only available with an Ancestry Subscription. If you don’t have a subscription at Ancestry you can always copy the title of the book and author and search the free sites to see if it’s available somewhere else. (FamilySearch Books, Internet Archive, HathiBooks, and Google Books-free are the first places I would look.) Ancestry does offer a couple great resource books for free, please see below for more info.

MyHeritage Book Matching

MyHeritage has over 400,000 digitized books and if you have a subscription with MyHeritage you’ll get free book matching. If they find your ancestor’s name referenced in any book they’ll give you a book matching hint. If you don’t have a subscription with MyHeritage there’s currently a way to search these books yourself for free, please see their free offering below (and I have no idea how long this deal will last but I’ve been aware of it for a couple of years.)

Some Google Books

Google Books search engine will return fee and free books. If you just do a general search at Google Books your search will be returned with mixed results including books that are digitized and online and freely available as well as books that have no eBook available with prompts for where to purchase the book or where to find it in a library. If you’re only interested in free, online books at Google Books, please read the free Google Books entry below.


Canadiana has many free books but it searches 40 partnering institutions and sometimes (often) you’ll hit a paywall and have to subscribe for at least one month ($7.50 US) to have full access to books. I’ve paid the one-month subscription fee because I wanted something behind the paywall.

Genealogy Gophers

Their database includes over 80,000 digitized books from FamilySearch and their partner institutions, including the Allen County Public Library and the BYU Library. Genealogy Gophers is currently adding another 100,000 books to their online collection. The benefit of Genealogy Gophers is it serves as a search engine for genealogy books and similar to MyHeritage’s Compilation of Published Resources, will return only books with your search query highlighted inside the book, so less hunting around for you.  There’s a subscription option (pay a $19.95 yearly subscription fee) or for the free option, please see below.



MyHeritage free offerings

MyHeritage’s collection of over 400,000 family history books can be searched for free using this link to their Compilation of Published Sources. Read more about the collection using this link.

FamilySearch books

“Family History Books is a collection of more than 325,000 digitized genealogy and family history publications from the archives of some of the most important family history libraries in the world. The collection includes family histories, county and local histories, genealogy magazines and how-to books, gazetteers, and medieval histories and pedigrees.” This is a great free collection but if you haven’t used it before, visit this listing and please read the notes about searching the site to make the most of your research time.

Internet Archive

Internet Archive has over 10 million free books/texts you can view online or download to your computer. Here’s a blog to show you how to search Internet Archive.

Google Books

Google Books has free books as well as books you need to purchase to view. Here’s a blog to walk you through how to get to the free books but the short version is: go to books.google.com, enter a search, select “Tools”, go to the drop down menu “Any books” and select “Free Google eBooks” and this will return only free books. If you choose to search all the books you’ll have options to look for that book in a library or find it at a book reseller.


Here’s a short blog entry on HathiTrust books. I use them all the time. My one tip is when you search for a book, select “category view” then any books with “full view” (there are books that allow only limited views/searches) then, here’s the most important hint, be very careful to use the “search in this text” window which is inconveniently right below the regular search window. If you use the second search window you’ll be starting a new search of all of HathiTrust. Been there done that and that’s what the back arrow is for.

Ancestry free offerings

Ancestry has at least two amazing resource books available for free at their site. Check out Red Book and The Source as you’re doing your research.


I use WorldCat when I’m truly desperate to find a book. Chances are slim that you’ll find a digitized version of the book you’re looking for (although I have occasionally found digitized items here) but this is a great resource for searching libraries and archives around the world to locate a resource. “WorldCat.org lets you search the collections of libraries in your community and thousands more around the world. WorldCat grows every day thanks to the efforts of librarians and other information professionals.” And it’s available in multiple languages!


ArchiveGrid gets 90% of its content from WorldCat but if you’re looking for something that happens to be in that last 10% it’s worth a once-over. ArchiveGrid focuses on material that is specifically archival and has metrics it uses to decide which collections are included in ArchiveGrid. “Collection descriptions from around 1,000 institutions – libraries, museums, historical societies, etc. – are included in ArchiveGrid.”


Héritage is a free, searchable database for books at Library and Archives Canada. Read more about it here.

Library Ireland

Library Ireland has some free online genealogies, street directories, biographies, A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis, and more. A great site for Irish resources.


Europeana has a free online collection of books as well as other mediums available for searches. I rarely use this site but it may prove helpful for European researchers.

World Digital Library

WDL is a cooperative effort between the US Library of Congress, UNESCO, and many libraries, archives, etc to make materials from 193 countries available for free online. One benefit of the World Digital Library is the site can be navigated in seven languages. Here’s a link to for a more in-depth description of their offerings.

British History Online

BHO has over 1,200 digitized primary and secondary source volumes and focuses on the history of Britain and Ireland between 1300 and 1800. Their collection includes maps, texts, primary sources, datasets, and more.

Peel’s Prairie Provinces

Peel’s is a free resource of the University of Alberta in Canada and has over 7,000 digitized books, more than 66,000 newspaper issues, more than 1,000 maps, and more. This is a well-known site for online research.


Trove (Australia) has free books and so much more available for online searches. At Trove you can select which type of “Book” you’re interested in researching, including “Search personal and organisational archives, including diaries, manuscripts, letters, business records, photographs, posters, pamphlets, ephemera …”

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg offers over 50,000 free digitized books. “Project Gutenberg was the first provider of free electronic books, or eBooks. Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, invented eBooks in 1971 and his memory continues to inspire the creation of eBooks and related technologies today.” They ask for donations, but none are required.

University of Michigan Digital General Collection

You may want to try searching holdings at the University of Michigan’s Digital Collection. Some search returns can only be viewed at the U of M but others are available online. “Books from the University of Michigan collection, scanned for preservation purposes. Only those volumes not included in other online collections are now available in the General Collection. Access to many of these is restricted to library use only.”

Genealogy Gophers

As mentioned above, their database includes over 80,000 digitized books from FamilySearch and their partner institutions, including the Allen County Public Library and the BYU Library. If you opt for the free offering, you “pay” by watching ads or responding to surveys.

Free Irish Genealogy books 

Free Irish Genealogy books is a blog that has links to over 4,000 free Irish-related genealogy books online.


Yizkor books at NYPL (Holocaust Memorial books). “Yizkor (memorial) books document the history of Jewish communities destroyed in the Holocaust. Most often privately published and compiled through the collective efforts of former community residents, they describe daily life through essays and photographs and memorialize murdered residents. Most are in Hebrew and/or Yiddish, although more English translations are being published now, especially through JewishGen, in online and print format.”


I’ll keep adding online book resources as I find them. Best in your book searches whether they’re fee or free!

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