How To Quickly Find Free Genealogy Records Through the Digital Public Library of America

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was an online research site that allowed you to easily search for records about your ancestors from repositories across the USA? One that linked to actual records that you could view online?

Wouldn’t it be even more wonderful if that site was completely free for anyone to use?

If you answered yes to these questions, you’ll be thrilled to know that such a research site does exist. It’s called the Digital Public Library of America and it contains an amazing number of family history records and resources just waiting to be discovered.


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The Digital Public Library of America acts as a portal to hundreds of libraries, museums, archives and other institutions. Each of these repositories holds a different selection of online records and DPLA makes them easy to find with a clean interface, advanced search options and extremely simple access to actual records. Although it makes sense that most of the records held by these contributing institutions are focused on the US, we did find some foreign records as well.

From Cherokee Census Cards stored by the National Archives at Fort Worth to Death Certificates from the Utah State Archives to Birth Certificates from the Fort Bend Museum — this huge online resource offers such a diverse collection of records that it is worth your time to head over and see if it can help you in your research right now.

The vision of a national digital library has been circulating among librarians, scholars, educators, and private industry representatives since the early 1990s. Efforts led by a range of organizations, including the Library of Congress, HathiTrust, and the Internet Archive, have successfully built resources that provide books, images, historic records, and audiovisual materials to anyone with Internet access. Many universities, public libraries, and other public-spirited organizations have digitized materials, but these digital collections often exist in silos. The DPLA  brings these different viewpoints, experiences, and collections together in a single platform and portal, providing open and coherent access to our society’s digitized cultural heritage.

Birth Certificate found through the Digital Library of America

julia_pratt bith certifcate

To begin your search on this site head over to the main page and enter a search. Try searching for your ancestors’ names and/or specific records or try to locate resources related to family surnames. You can try, for instance, to search for Julia Pratt birth Texas or undertake a more general search, such as Pratt Genealogy.

As with any search in a general collection, make sure and add terms that you would expect to find in the descriptive text for the records you are looking for.

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Terms like:

  • death
  • birth
  • marriage
  • census
  • genealogy
  • pedigree
  • family
  • pension
  • WWII
  • etc

And don’t forget to try first/last name variations and location name variations — a search for Massachusetts will return different results than a search for Mass.

The Digital Library of America offers some very helpful search filters on the left sidebar after you complete an initial search as well. You can filter by contributing institution, location, subject, language and date. Although you will want to be careful with the date filter as we found that some records were excluded incorrectly when this filter was used.

You might also like to make use of the Timeline, Map or Bookshelf search feature found in the top menu.

Cherokee Census Card Application found through DPLA


You can also use common operators to refine your search and create better results — such as quotation marks for exact searches and the minus sign to remove a term.


We’d love to hear what you find in the comments!

If you haven’t yet checked it out, consider taking our new online genealogy course that includes more than 100 free genealogy research sites, advanced search tricks for finding your ancestors, using Google to more effectively search just about any website’s contents and much more. Sign up here.

By Melanie Mayo, Editor of Family History Daily

Image: The famous American college for women. The Easy-To-Use Library. Students at Vassar College are strongly in favor of the open-shelf arrangement of their library’s contents, for the system makes the entire collection freely available, and they have direct and comfortable access to books and periodicals. ca 1944. Library of Congress

10 thoughts on “How To Quickly Find Free Genealogy Records Through the Digital Public Library of America”

  1. It possible that’s it’s spelled completely different than what you’ve typed it. Also pronocation could play a big part of how it was originally spelt.

  2. Most families had a midwife to deliver their children in those days. Only documents would be a family bible or christening at a church.

  3. Joseph F. ROBISON/ROBINSON - Grandfather and Ida Mae CHILDERS - Grandmother

    I am trying to find documentation or proof of the birth of my maternal grandparents and to date have been unable to find for either. I have several documents completed by each of them that indicate they were both born in Indiana but again, nothing to show evidence to document same.

    My grandfather, Joseph F. Robison/Robinson, B. 25 Mar 1891 @ Avoca, Lawrence County, IN (or) Monroe Co., IN
    D. 17 Sep 1959 @ Arcola, Douglas Co., IL

    My grandmother, Ida Mae Childers, B. 28 Apr 1898 @ Campbellsburg, Washington County, IN
    D. 3 Nov 1947 @ North Vernon, Jennings Co., Indiana

  4. I went on to the site, but couldn’t find any place to search. Can you tell me where you found the Search bar?

  5. Unfortunately, i just entered my family name and the word ‘genealogy’ and it came back with zero results. Very disappointing. I was almost excited about this website.

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