The pro­lif­er­a­tion of tablet com­put­ers, smart­phones and ebook read­ers means that more and more of us are on the hunt for digi­tised books, writes

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - FRONT PAGE -

There are now dizzy­ing num­bers of dig­i­tal ti­tles avail­able for the fam­ily his­to­rian. How­ever, the sheer quan­tity means the trick is sort­ing the wheat from the chaff. You will find some are in for­mats specif­i­cally op­ti­mised for use on reader, tablet or smart­phone, while oth­ers are sim­ple PDF or text edi­tions.

Our fo­cus here is what can be found for free. Many of th­ese web­sites of­fer free ebooks, scanned out-of-copy­right ti­tles and new books you will have to pay for. The ac­count of the Earl Grey, the ship on which Anne Reid’s an­ces­tor sailed to Tas­ma­nia, was sourced via Ama­zon, sadly not for free.

Ma­jor projects, use­ful web­sites and sources that have not made our top five in­clude vic­to­ri­a­coun­ty­his­, open­li­, guten­, euro­, pepys­di­, vi­sionof­bri­, ap­, ama­ kindle­books and

1 Bri­tish His­tory On­line


Many sites fea­tured this month have a heavy Amer­i­can bias that you will need to work around. Not so this won­der­ful “dig­i­tal li­brary of key printed pri­mary and sec­ondary sources”, which fo­cuses on the pe­riod be­tween 1300 and 1800. While the num­bers are quite mod­est (it cur­rently boasts about 1,200 vol­umes), ver­sion 5.0 of the site, launched in De­cem­ber last year, has a new search and cat­a­logue in­ter­face, plus a use­ful sub­ject guide to lo­cal his­tory ( bri­tish-his­tory.­ing-bho/lo­cal-guide). Key ti­tles in­clude the Vic­to­ria His­tory of the Coun­ties, and, from the home­page, you can click ‘Pri­mary sources’ or ‘Sec­ondary texts’ for a taste of the sheer wealth of ma­te­rial avail­able.

2 Fam­ily His­tory Books


Fam­ily His­tory Books is a col­lec­tion of more than 150,000 digi­tised ge­neal­ogy pub­li­ca­tions on Fam­i­lySearch. It in­cludes fam­ily his­to­ries, county and lo­cal his­to­ries, ge­neal­ogy ‘how-to’ books and a lot more be­sides. You can view ti­tles on­line, but this can be a rather clunky ex­pe­ri­ence, so sav­ing the PDF for­mat copies to your ma­chine is the best way to go. The web­site doesn’t en­cour­age brows­ing by sub­ject, so you will prob­a­bly want to search by name or key­word. If you en­counter dif­fi­cul­ties load­ing a ti­tle, it’s worth try­ing an al­ter­na­tive web browser.

3 Google Books

Google’s dig­i­tal ti­tles can be broadly split up into three cat­e­gories: out of copy­right/pub­lic do­main books, scanned but still copy­right pro­tected ti­tles, and books sub­mit­ted to Google by pub­lish­ers. Gen­er­ally, you can ei­ther down­load full texts or see ex­cerpts. If, from the ad­dress above, you click ‘Browse’ and make your way to the His­tory sec­tion, you’ll soon dis­cover there is no ob­vi­ous sub-sec­tion for ge­neal­ogy. With some dig­ging you can find all kinds of in­ter­est­ing con­tent, but un­less you have a spe­cific sub­ject or ti­tle to search for, you will need to be pa­tient.

4 His­tor­i­cal Di­rec­to­ries

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There are sev­eral web­sites of­fer­ing ac­cess to digi­tised his­tor­i­cal di­rec­to­ries, gazetteers and post of­fice di­rec­to­ries, but this is the pick of the bunch for re­searchers in­ter­ested in Eng­land and Wales. The link above takes you to a sim­ple map, plus a list of coun­ties (al­though Welsh coun­ties are all grouped into one cat­e­gory), which you can then click to see what’s avail­able.

Ti­tles stretch from the 1760s to the 1910s, and in­clude fa­mil­iar pub­lish­ers such as Kelly’s and Slater’s, along­side the likes of Wor­rall, Wil­son and Hunt. You can view the vol­umes on­line or al­ter­na­tively down­load the PDFs, all free of charge.

5 Hathi Trust

An­other mas­sive pro­ject, the Hathi Trust is a part­ner­ship of aca­demic and re­search in­sti­tu­tions that of­fers a col­lec­tion of mil­lions of ti­tles digi­tised from li­braries around the world. As with many of the web­sites this month, the sheer scale of the con­tent can feel over­whelm­ing, so you could start by click­ing ‘Col­lec­tions’ to ex­plore com­monly grouped ti­tles. Re­mem­ber, too, that some ‘free’ ti­tles will only be freely avail­able to users in the United States.

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