3 top free websites for finding old books online


20 January 2017
Pixabay-stacks-of-books-1163695-22920.jpg Start exploring digital libraries today
Digital libraries are a wonderful and rich resource for family historians, packed with free publications that can inform and aid your ancestral searches. Here we pick 3 of our favourite websites

Family historians can benefit from the enormous numbers of old and out-of-copyright publications that are now available online in a wealth of digital libraries. At the click of a button they are yours to access – you can often read them online straight away or download them to your desktop computer or mobile device to read later.


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So why would you need them? Well, they contain an incredible range of genealogical treasures, from old parish histories, trade directories and books on past occupations, to transcribed church registers. You could read up on former asylums, long-gone memorial inscriptions, discover whole family histories or political pamphlets, old maps, manuscripts, journals, past health and education and more – the opportunities for family history research are literally endless. 

There are lots of digital libraries to delve into, but here are our top 3 free websites to get you started today:

 1. Internet Archive 

A not-for-profit archive including millions of digitised books (and videos). Special collections include: American Libraries, Canadian Libraries, European Libraries and Project Gutenberg (see point 2). Find local histories, books on old trades, transcriptions of parish registers and other genealogical delights.


2. Project Gutenberg 

This project provides the free full text of over 50,000 free ebooks (mainly pre-1930s and thus out of copyright), which can be read online or downloaded. There is no fee or registration process on this site but readers are encouraged to donate a small amount towards the cost of further digitisation projects. 


3. Google Books 

More than 2 million full text books now in the public domain are available for free via this site. Many more copyrighted books are included via excerpts and snippets.    


Lots of digital libraries offer free audio books too –  one of our favourites is Librivox.


Many old books, of course, have not (yet) been digitised but you can still use the internet to find out the location of an old-fashioned hard copy. Use www.bl.uk or http://copac.jisc.ac.uk to search for titles held in the British Library and UK and Irish academic, national and specialist libraries. To locate the nearest (ordinary public) library to you that holds the book you are looking for, enter the name of the book and your postcode at www.bookmarkyourlibrary.org.uk/find-a-book 

And if you wish to buy an old book, don’t forget that many rare titles come up for sale (and often quite cheaply) at www.abebooks.com and www.amazon.co.uk   


Enjoy exploring the world of free books online. For a comprehensive directory of digital libraries of great use to family history researchers, written by author Ruth Symes, don't miss the February issue of Family Tree, available here.