Using ebooks for genealogical research

One often overlooked source of genealogical information is family history and local history ebooks. Often in a library, you can find the books that have no index, but a wonderful added bonus with ebooks is that pdfs are searchable. And each ebook can be attached to relevant ancestors in Family Tree Maker. I have three major sources for ebooks– Project Gutenberg, Google Books, and WorldCat.

Project Gutenberg is a free resource for all types of ebooks. There are thousands of topics, authors, classics, and books are available in dozens of languages.  Books are also available as pdfs or many other ebook formats.  Project Gutenberg has a family history/genealogy subcategory.

Once you have thoroughly searched this site, then add it to your rss feed to see the latest additions. Going through the rss list makes it easier to keep on top of newly added books.

WorldCat is another fabulous resource for genealogists searching for family history books. Search by surname, location, event, and any other criteria. Sometimes you will find downloadable ebooks, but generally, WorldCat will tell you which library to contact to find the book. In addition to books, WorldCat also have a variety of media cataloged. You might be surprised what you find there.


 Google Books is a great search feature within Google for family history resources. Use  Google’s search tips to cut down the number of hits. Rather than just searching by surname (which will generate thousands of hits), I usually start with a search of surname +”family history”. With the plus sign and no space, Google will pair the name with anything you add to it. It will significantly cut down the number of hits. By placing “family history” in quotation marks, Google will show you those resources tagged or categorized as family history. For more tips on Google search tips, just google “google search tips”.

It is also helpful to combine surname +location. For example: offenbacher +ohio.

Or you can combine surname +event. For example: brelsford +flood or brelsford +”civil war”.

Use the Google search tools to account for surname alternate spellings. For example, in my family, there are Offenbachers and Offenbackers. So, you can google search with the asterisk to account for that. Just search for offenbac*er or even more generally search for offenba* which would also include the Offenbaughers and the Offenbakers.

Remember in all of these formats and sites, search for people, places, and events. And don’t forget to search for historical accounts, centennial/bicentennial celebrations,  and other local happenings. You might be surprised to find that one of your ancestors was a part of local history.

My search method is to go through a collection very thoroughly by surname on a regular interval. I use the same source tracking chart to keep track of ebooks in addition to the other sources that I mine regularly. If you would like a copy of the Excel file, email me at kelli.messonthedesk@gmail.com. I will send you a free copy! Happy ebook hunting!

51 thoughts on “Using ebooks for genealogical research

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